Thursday, September 19, 2013

The search for a British baked bean

I spent an enjoyable afternoon at the Warwick Crops Centre (formerly Warwick HRI) Open Day at Wellesbourne yesterday. In part this was because of the opportunity to catch up with former research collaborators (and hopefully future ones), but there were also many interesting exhibits and a good crowd in attendance. My overall impression was that the Crops Centre is now in a more stable position than it was and able to make a real contribution to the need for applied research in agriculture that is of value to farmers and growers.

I was particularly interested in the exhibit of growing haricot beans. Baked beans are a staple of the British diet and they are very nutritious, although possibly they could be prepared and cooked in more interesting ways than being doused in tomato sauce (having said that, I do eat them in that format). At one time production was centred in Michigan, but we now mainly import them from Canada.

They are difficult to grow in the UK because they are sensitive to cold. Some twenty years ago work was done on a British variety of 'navy' bean (I'm not sure where the terminology comes from) but then the funding ran out. However, with a new emphasis on food security, BBSRC has come up with some funding for the work to continue.

Two types of bean were being grown, one that is disease resistant and one that is cold resistant. One of the varieties was white rather than the usual colour which would require some re-education of consumers. The hope is to combine these to produce a bean that is both cold and disease resistant which could then be grown in the UK. How economic this would be, even with an improved variety, is an open question. The plants seemed to be smaller than their counterparts in Canada.

Nevertheless, it is an excellent example of applied research and you can read more here: Baked beans

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