Panhandle Perspectives: A Brief History of Dry Bean Production in Nebraska

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Lincoln, Neb. – The first ration of dry beans sold for retail trade in the United States would have been in New York State in the 1830s / In 1836 Stephen Coe obtained a single pint of white beans (also called peas or white beans), presumably from a Native American tribe in eastern New York State, and planted them on this farm near Yates, Orleans County, in the western part of the state.

After three successive harvests, he produced enough beans to sell them. A 33 bushel shipment was then sold to HV Prentiss of Albion, NY. In 1890, production in the United States exceeded 500,000 bushels.

Production of dry beans in Nebraska also began humbly around 1895. According to Leon A. Moomaw’s book on the history of western Nebraska, “Pioneering in the Shadow of Chimney Rock,” the earliest reference to anyone who grew crops. dried beans in western Nebraska was Charles Stroud of Bayard. He planted 1.5 acres, and that crop yielded only 17 bushels in total after harvesting the plants by hand and threshing them with a pitchfork as a threshing machine. The market class he used for this is uncertain as no mention was made of the type of beans used, or where the seeds were acquired.

RA Emerson

Around the same time (late 1890s), at the eastern end of the state, a University of Nebraska horticultural professor named Rollings A. Emerson began a distinguished career as a researcher in plant breeding and genetics. He chose the common bean as his first research model, becoming one of the first (if not the first) dry bean researchers in the United States.

His first experiments culminated in an article published in 1902 entitled “Preliminary Account of Variation in Bean Hybrids”, with a second article on bean hybrids appearing in 1904. Later he also published several articles concerning the heredity of the bean. seed color, seed size and other traits of common bean.

In 1914, Emerson moved to Cornell University, where he headed the department of plant breeding. Although he has become a world famous geneticist with corn (maize), little is known in his original state and should be recognized as a major catalyst for the start of the dry bean industry in Nebraska. He greatly influenced the field of corn genetics, mentoring many brilliant young scientists who later became accomplished geneticists in their own right, including Nebraska native and Nobel Prize winner George Beadle.

Chester B. Brown

Although Emerson’s work on beans at the turn of the 20th century paved the way for the start of this industry in Nebraska, the person probably most responsible for promoting and introducing bean production to the Valley of North Platte was Chester B. Brown. His family established a farm near Morrill in 1893 and began farming.

Sugar beets and potatoes became the most important crops in western Nebraska after the construction of the sugar beet factory at Scottsbluff in 1910. However, after suffering the disappointment of harvesting over 11,000 bushels of potatoes that could not be sold, Brown began to investigate growing another crop to improve the profitability of his farm. On a trip to Idaho in 1923, he bought northern bean seeds and brought them back to Nebraska, believing that they could be produced successfully due to climate, altitude, and others. similar growing conditions. He planted and harvested 10 acres of beans on his farm with very good results before encouraging others in the area to try them as well.

By 1926 he had sufficiently demonstrated to neighbors the potential for bean production, enabling them to co-purchase a small cleaner, mount it on a truck and move from field to field, cleaning and throwing the harvested beans. This officially started the industry in Nebraska. Brown began marketing dry beans in 1927 after renting part of a potato warehouse in Morrill.

At that time, most of the beans grown were concentrated in and around Morrill; however, this practice continued to expand into the 1930s throughout the North Platte River Valley and beyond.

Dry Bean Statistics and Origin of Great Northern Beans

Today, production is concentrated in the Nebraska Panhandle, with growers planting between 150,000 and 200,000 acres per year. Of the 17 states that grow beans in the United States, Nebraska is the third largest producer of dry beans. In terms of market class, Nebraska grows more Great Northern beans than any other state and is second in pintos and light red beans. In fact, Scotts Bluff County is the seventh largest bean producing county in the United States.

The origin of the great northern bean may also be of interest. According to Leland W. Hudson (Regional Plant Introduction Station, Washington State University), in 1935, the 52nd annual Oscar W. Will and Co. seed catalog in Bismarck, ND, claimed that the seed of the great northern bean had was originally obtained. by his father, Oscar H. Will, in 1887 of a Native American Hidatsa known as the Son of Star, whose tribe had cultivated white beans for years.

Think about it the next time you’re shopping and buying Great Northern beans (canned or dried). It is quite possible that they were locally grown somewhere in the western Nebraska Panhandle, but also remember that they were also originally derived from a small sample of beans donated by a Native American tribe in Dakota. North over 130 years ago.


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