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Published September 27, 2009, 12:05 AM

FACES AND PLACES: Jim Karley is the king of beans

Buyers who call Johnstown Bean Co. get a field report on the pinto and black turtle bean harvest from Jim Karley. Literally. The owner of Johnstown Bean Co. not only sells edible beans across the United States and around the world, he grows them. During late September Karley spends most days in the cab of the combine harvesting the 2,000 acres he planted this spring.

By: Ann Bailey, Grand Forks Herald

JOHNSTOWN, N.D. — Buyers who call Johnstown Bean Co. get a field report on the pinto and black turtle bean harvest from Jim Karley.

Literally.

The owner of Johnstown Bean Co. not only sells edible beans across the United States and around the world, he grows them. During late September Karley spends most days in the cab of the combine harvesting the 2,000 acres he planted this spring.

Often Karley has a cell phone in hand when he’s combining, keeping in touch with his employees on the farm, managers at the office in Johnstown and buyers in the United States and across the world.

It doesn’t take Karley long to set straight buyers who are trying to “talk down” the market by complaining about the quality of the crop. The buyer who’s sitting behind a desk somewhere lacks the credibility of Karley who’s behind the wheel of the bean combine.

Export market

Karley, Johnstown Bean Co. president, and his father-in-law, the late Don Lindholm, a pioneer in the area’s edible bean industry, started the export business to increase their market share.

“It was more or less out of necessity how we got into exports,” Karley said. North Central Commodities, the marketing arm of Johnstown Bean Co., initially sold its beans to the government of Mexico and now annually markets millions of pounds of black turtles and pintos to countries around the world, including South Arica, Angola and the Dominican Republic.

Neither Karley or Lindholm knew much about the export business when they started, Karley said.

“It was more or less the school of hard knocks,” he said, noting that he learned about doing international business, including dealing with letters of credit and international finance after he and Lindholm founded North Central Commodities.

Karley learned the export trade well. During the past two decades North Central Commodities has twice been named Exporter of the Year by the Greater North Association and Karley was named Small Business Person of the Year by the Chamber in Grand Forks.

One of the keys to being a successful exporter is to have one-on-one contact with the buyers, Karley said. Buyers have traveled halfway across the world to visit Johnstown Bean Co. and Karley’s farm near Johnstown.

“We’ll take guys to the field and show them what we’re doing,” he said.

On the flip side, Karley has made dozens of trips overseas to visit with buyers.

“International business is built on trust and you have to visit them on their own turf,” Karley said,. “A lot of vacations we take begins or ends with somebody” who buys pinto or black turtle beans from his company.

New horizons

But learning a business is nothing new to Karley. Originally from Moorhead, Karley didn’t know anything about farming when he married his wife, Denise, in 1977. He was a pre-med student planning to be a dentist when he decided to switch his career plans and go into partnership with Lindholm.

A year after Karley started farming with Lindholm, the two men opened the doors of Johnstown Bean Co. Besides North Central Commodities, the Karleys also own Cavalier (N.D.) Bean Co. About 150 farmers in northeast North Dakota and northwest Minnesota supply beans to Johnstown and Cavalier Bean Co.

The Karleys’ 28 year old son, Dylan, recently joined the family’s business, but both parents remain involved in the day-to-day operation of the edible bean companies.

During harvest the days begin early and end late.

“Usually I’m in my office at 6 a.m. and I go through my e-mails right away,” Karley said. By 7 a.m. he is at the farm a few miles south of the bean plant talking to his employees about the plans for the day.

“It clearly is the busiest time of the year,” Karley said.

These days thanks to his wife and longtime, knowledgeable employees who keep the companies running smoothly, he’s able to spend more time concentrating on the production side of the business.

“Lately I’ve been able to spend more and more time on the tractor or combine,” Karley said.

Spare time

When he’s not on the combine or in the office, Karley enjoys working on old cars or driving his Corvette.

“That’s really my relaxation.”

After the harvest is completed in the fall Karley also enjoys attending UND football and hockey games and pheasant hunting with his liver and white spaniels Captain and Toby.

“To have a couple of good dogs and watch them do their work is unbelievable,” he said.

Bailey writes for special features sections. Reach her at (701) 787-6753; (800) 477-6572, ext. 753; or send e-mail to abailey@gfherald.com.

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