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NDSU Has a New Bean Breader
January 24, 2007

Dry bean research associate Gonzalo Rojas-Cifuentes (left) and bean breeder Juan Osorno in the NDSU Seed Testing Lab, where seed is prepared before planting in greenhouse or field trial evaluations.

The Northarvest growing region has a new dry bean breeder.  And while its important to have a point person at the helm skilled at crop research corroboration as well as communication with producers and industry, Juan Osorno would emphasize two key facts about his appointment to this position:

"        The dry bean breeding program at North Dakota State University is just that, a program that is bigger than any one person.

"        Since the program involves more than one person, dry bean breeding efforts at NDSU did not shut down after longtime breeder Ken Grafton left the position to become director of the N.D. Agricultural Experiment Station, and Dean of the College of Agriculture, Food Systems and Natural Resources.

Osorno is a native of
Colombia, the country which links South America with Central America, where he received his Bachelors Degree in Agronomy in 1997.  From 1996 to 2000, he worked at CIAT, the International Center for Tropical Agriculture.  This international research network is similar to CIMMYT, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, except that CIATs work focuses on cassava, forages, tropical fruits, rice, and dry beans.

Bean improvement research at CIAT concentrates on two main tasks: 1) developing germplasm that offers farmers distinct advantages with or without purchased inputs and 2) designing strategies for managing diseases and pests in bean-based cropping systems.

Since CIATs establishment in 1967, national agricultural research programs in 39 countries have released 362 bean varietiesincluding 238 in
Latin America and 111 in Africabased on germplasm provided by the Center.  CIATs bean improvement on the web:

Among his research experience at CIAT, Osorno worked with the planning, planting, maintenance, and harvest of experimental plots, as well as:

"        Breeding for disease resistance to common bacterial blight, angular leaf spot,

and anthracnose.

"        Breeding for low fertility and drought tolerance.

"        Applications of molecular markers in breeding for disease resistance.

Its the largest bean research program in the world, says Osorno about CIAT, which works with about 21 market classes of beans.  It was a great opportunity to learn and work with the top breeders there.

From 2000 to 2003, he studied and worked at the
University of Puerto Rico, where he received his Masters Degree in Agronomy.  He researched resistance to Bean Golden Yellow Mosaic Virus, evaluated breeding lines and made BGYMV inoculations in the field and greenhouse, worked with marker-assisted selection for common bean diseases, and was an instructor in the molecular markers laboratory. His research contributed to the release of three lines with resistance to BGYMV.

It was here that Osorno met NDSUs
Ken Grafton. Several years can be eliminated from cultivar development if off-season winter nurseries are used, and Grafton conducted his off-season winter nursery evaluation of dry bean lines in cooperation with the University of Puerto Rico.

Osorno accepted Graftons invitation in 2003 to come to NDSU to study for his PhD in Plant Sciences.  Here, Osorno worked and studied within the NDSU corn breeding program, with a primary research emphasis on the characterization of early maturing improved corn populations for grain quality.

Mike Beltz, Hillsboro, N.D., chairman of the North Dakota Dry Bean Council and a member of the NDSU dry bean breeder search committee, says Osornos experience at NDSU, Puerto Rico, and at CIAT combined to make Osorno an excellent selection as NDSUs next dry bean breeder.  Hes got a strong background, says Beltz.  He knows beans.

Breeding beans a balancing act

NDSU research specialist Jody Vander Wal has been involved with the dry bean research program here since the early 1980s, about as long as Grafton.  They essentially built this program, says Gonzalo Rojas-Cifuentes, a research associate who has worked within the program for over four years.  Jean (Robert) Gelin has been involved in the breeding program the past few years as well, although he left for the private sector on September 2006, becoming a part of Syngenta Seeds new research station near Glyndon, Minn.  Grad students and under grads are also employed to help carry out research work.

The point is, a sustained public research and breeding program takes more than one person. It has to, especially since faculty usually have a teaching appointment along with their research responsibilities, and Osorno is no exception, with an 85% research, 15% teaching commitment.

It was VanderWal, Rojas-Cifuentes, and Gelin who continued to carry forth much of the NDSU dry bean breeding program in the interim between Graftons departure and Osornos arrival.

For example, during the 2005 growing season, 39 research projects and dozens of preliminary and advanced breeding lines were evaluated at five locations in
North Dakota, and at two locations in Minnesota. And at NDSU greenhouses in 2005, over 200 crosses were made (49% pinto, 23% navy, 14% black and 14% great northern and red beans).

Eclipse became the first black bean variety to be released by the North Dakota Agricultural Experiment Station in 2004.  Its development, like other dry bean varieties at NDSU, was made possible in part through funds provided by the
Northarvest Bean Growers Association.  Two elite pinto lines are set for release in 2007, pending review committee approval.

Pintos, navies, blacks, great northerns, and kidneys will continue to be the research focus under Osorno, and upright varieties as well.  Upright plants are easier to harvest, and can help minimize disease risks.  However, breeding for upright plants is not an easy task, says Osorno. Theres a lot of genes involved with plant architecture, and changing plant structure can influence yield.  Just as it is with other crops, bean breeding is a balancing act.

Osorno can be contacted by email:


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