Breeding Common Bean to Maximize Culinary Quality and Field Performance

New bean varietiesResearch Adviser: Paul Gepts
Team Leader: Travis Parker –
Common Bean One-Page

Conventional cultivars of Phaseolus belong to two major classes, dry beans vs. green beans, and each of these classes includes several market categories. These categories, however, represent only a paltry fraction of the available genetic diversity available for these species. For example, in the US, cultivars of dry beans mainly fall into the pinto, navy, small black, pink, and red kidney types, but other market classes are not represented. The organic industry has identified a business opportunity by focusing on alternative market categories, which often have more vivid seed colors and patterns than existing cultivars.

Since 2015, the SCOPE common bean team has worked to develop varieties that combine the high-value culinary properties of heirloom beans with the agronomic qualities of modern varieties. By the 2018 field season, the SCOPE common bean team focused on a replicated multi-location trial of advanced generation materials that had been promising in the 2017 and (in some cases) 2016 field seasons. Ten advanced generation breeding lines, five heirlooms, and three control varieties developed at Michigan State University and UC Davis were grown in three replicates at each of three field sites. Primary target traits for these trials were yield, bean common mosaic virus (BCMV) resistance, and seed color. Early season growth rate is important for weed competitiveness in common bean, and this was evaluated using a small Unmanned Aerial System (sUAS, or drone).


photo of taste testers trying bean varietiesThe SCOPE common bean breeding project has been active in several forms of outreach in the field, in the classroom, and through mass-media outlets. SCOPE team leads have led a series of talks and greenhouse visits to educate students on the vital role of plant breeding in sustainable agriculture. A series of field days have targeted students and farmers, to further inform the community about the availability of the new varieties and how they were developed.

The new common bean varieties have been evaluated in two taste tests since Fall 2018, in which they performed favorably compared to existing heirloom and commercial varieties. These taste tests included chefs and members of the general public.

The program has also been a major part of a PBS special “A Growing Passion” on high-value varieties of dry bean. The program’s webpage can be found here. The team lead met with a film crew on three separate occasions to shoot footage for the show, including two days of filming at a southern California field site and an additional day in the greenhouse and laboratory at UC Davis.

BCMV resistanceInformation on the project has also been published in the Davis Enterprise ( and UC Davis News page ( An article on the project has been featured in an article of “Organic Farmer” magazine. These forms of outreach will help inform farmers and the general public of the role of agricultural research in agriculture today.

This work has also received financial support from The Clif Bar Family Foundation, Lundberg Family Farms, and Western SARE. This material is also supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture, under award number 2016-38640-25383 through the Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program under subaward number 200592-448 [project number GW18-062]. USDA is an equal opportunity employer and service provider. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.