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Organic Bean Production

Preamble: Organic bean production is relatively small when compared to conventional production in the US (Table 1), but many large scale bean producers in Michigan are considering organic production given the price advantage (~150%) for the organic crop. In a recent study at MSU, the highest yielding bean varieties developed under conventional management systems were also the highest yielding under organic systems (Figure 1). The same array of agronomic, disease resistance and phenology traits that dominate the focus of the breeding program are important in both production systems. Neglected among these traits are plant nutrition traits including tolerance to low soil fertility, nutrient use efficiency, and symbiotic nitrogen fixation. As growers struggle to optimize yields in an environmentally sustainable fashion, bean breeders are again considering the genetic enhancement of beans for efficient use of nutrients. Enhancing biological nitrogen fixation (BNF) ability of dry beans through breeding and selection would provide growers with option of reducing fertilizer costs and the commensurate potential contamination of ground water. Bean growers in the Saginaw Valley and thumb of Michigan farm in the Great Lakes water shed and any loss of nitrogen through leaching poses problems that require action. Reducing the amount of fertilizer used to produce a successful bean crop would improve land stewardship and avoid potential environmental issues in the future. Current research is underway to genetically enhance the BNF capacity of contemporary dry bean varieties grown by farmers in Michigan.

Table 1. Comparison of Dry Bean Production Figures in Organic vs. Conventional Systems

2008 NAS Farms Acres Production - cwt Farm Gate Value
Michigan 33 4,781 72,562 $3.94m
US 127 12,407 177,212 $8.47m
Michigan 1,150* 190,219 3,534,438 $126.96m
US 6,109* 1,432,793 25,380,788 $901.73m
Michigan 1,183* 195,000 3,607,000 $130.9m
US 6,236* 1,445,200 25,558,000 $910.2m

Organic Information from: External Link

Conventional information is subtracted from total and is found in USDA’s Crop Production Report, 2008 Summary: External Link

*from 2007 Census of Agriculture

Figure 1. Scatter plot of yield (kg/ha) of 32 dry bean varieties grown under organic and conventional treatments at the Kellogg Biological Station, Gull Lake, MI for 3-years 2007-2009. Conventional yield is on the Y-axis and organic yield on the X-axis. [Abstracted from Heilig, J.A. 2010. Evaluation of dry bean genotypes for performance under organic production systems; Evaluation of early nitrogen fixation in dry bean. M.S. thesis, Michigan State University, East Lansing MI. 139pp.]