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Published October 03, 2011, 07:54 PM

Northern bean growers see damage from recent freeze unfold

FARGO, N.D. — Experts throughout the region still are trying to get a fix on what the sporadic frost throughout the region will mean for quantity and quality of crops, but the facts probably won’t be known for a couple of weeks.

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

FARGO, N.D. — Experts throughout the region still are trying to get a fix on what the sporadic frost throughout the region will mean for quantity and quality of crops, but the facts probably won’t be known for a couple of weeks.

Adnan Akyuz, North Dakota state climatologist based at North Dakota State University in Fargo, says the freeze was “very sporadic” across the state. As a rule of thumb, a freeze has to be below 32 degrees for at least two hours to do plant damage, Akyuz says. Since most reporting stations don’t have hourly reports, other than the North Dakota Agricultural Weather Network, agricultural scientists often look to the 28-degree temperatures as a killing frost.

Soybeans and dry edible beans are two of the crops on which experts are trying to evaluate the damage.

One of the farmers scratching his head is Steve Miller of Enderlin, N.D. Giving a field tour to a visitor, Miller first drives into an earlier-planted soybean field.

“The frost, I don’t think, did any damage here. They were already ripened, far enough along,” Miller says. “So far, the little strip that we took is going to way more than out-yield the wheat crop, if the weather cooperates.”

Miller says his farm includes about 650 acres of soybeans. Of those, about 300 acres are “OK.” It was a Northrup King variety that was one of the first they seeded, about May 10 or 11.

Another of Miller’s fields is a 180-acre field that was later-seeded with later-maturity soybeans.

“That one, I don’t know what the outcome will be. It was grass-green when it had a hard frost. It looks like a lot of green leaves that are all kind of crusty right now,” he says.

Mewes: A mixed effect

Jason Mewes of Colgate, N.D., president of the North Dakota Soybean Growers Association, says the frost hit Sept. 14, the second day of the Big Iron farm show in West Fargo, N.D., had a mixed effect on his soybeans.

“Some of the early beans around here are just fine,” Mewes says.

But some of the beans that were planted after June 10 are just “really ugly, full of really teeny beans. I don’t know if they’ll dry to be marketable or just counted as dockage,” he says.

The frost is the earliest Mewes has seen to have an effect on soybeans.

“Normally, we’re looking for a frost to finish them off, and even them out a bit,” he says.

He guesses about 25 percent of his farm’s soybeans may be damaged from the frost, but thinks that, regionally, the figure might be higher — maybe 40 percent. So far, the outside influences have had a bigger effect with downward price pressure on the prices.

Dry edible beans may be one of the bigger stories for market consequences of the frost.

Mewes finished up dry bean harvest Sept. 26 and was pleasantly surprised that the yield was 1,500 to 1,800 pounds per acre, while he expected only 1,100 to 1,200 an acre. About 75 percent of his beans were planted in a timely fashion, but 25 percent were planted later, allowing fields to dry.

Ed Walton of Lisbon, N.D., says the frost probably will put an exclamation point on the marketing year for dry edible beans and likely will create a record-high price situation rivaling the banner year of 1973. Walton owns and manages Walton Ag Services. The company processes pintos and black beans.

Bigger than 1973?

The frost situation is “all over the board,” Walton says. He says he’s setting up three bins for taking pinto beans alone, because there are have three separations.

The Buffalo, N.D., area, in western Cass County, for example, to Oakes, N.D., offers a big variety in damage estimates.

“If you’re in light soil and it was sandy and you planted early, there was no frost at all,” Walton says. “If you’re in medium soil and it got wet on you and the crop got behind, then the yellow-podded beans froze, not the green-podded, even. It didn’t freeze green pods.”

In some cases, farmers had up to 20 to 25 percent of their beans frozen, Walton says. Most of those frozen beans were not frozen on the meat of the beans but frozen on the skins.

“But they’ve still got to be thrown out as damage,” he says. “Probably the average is 10 percent of damage.”

Walton says he is surprised that the damage isn’t worse than it is.

“We’ve got quite a few around Englevale (N.D.) that are really in sandy, gravelly soil that are not on the irrigation, that are not on the irrigation.”

Some of the really rocky, soil beans already have been harvested.

“There have already been some harvested and zero frozen, but there’s not very many of them. Most planted in the heavier soil, like in (the) Elliott (N.D.) area and LaMoure (N.D.). Any planted in those soils are in tough shape. They didn’t (come) out of the ground good; they’re later, they’re stunted. If they were losing their leaves at all frost just got them tops. If the leaves were really green, it froze the green leaves off, but it didn’t get those green beans on the bottom. The yellow ones that were up on top — what I would call the third (pod) set, they were turning yellow and had a little juice in ’em, they’re the ones that froze.”

Pintos on their own

At 7 percent frost damage, the market labels beans substandard, Walton says.

“Sometimes, it’s federal crop program after 7 percent. But I think the dealers are going to want them if they’re 7 or 20 (percent frost damage) because they need ’em.”

Not many countries raise pinto beans, but China raises black beans, Walton says.

“Pintos are kind of alone by themselves,” Walton says. “You might as well expect pintos to be a good market all the way through the winter.”

He says the markets are expecting prices to go to $5 to $10 per hundredweight more than what they were on Sept. 22, so most farmers will hang on for awhile.

Walton says end-users weren’t stepping up to the plate even in mid-

summer with sufficient price increases to get farmers to make deals.

The last big price boom in 1973 played a key role in Walton’s career. He moved to the Wyndmere, N.D., in 1965, at age 18. His father moved from Ohio because farmland in North Dakota then was less expensive. Walton bought a quarter and an 80-acre tract for himself near Barney, N.D.

Walton raised dry beans because he had a neighbor, John Dunbar, who raised dry beans for Wes and Dick Gormley and their Gormley Bean Co., and the Wicks Agriculture Co., that owned it. Then Lee Allen stepped in with Midwest Beans, with sites in North Dakota’s Galesburg, Hector and Barney. In 1973, bean prices went to 55 cents on pintos.

“I had them in my bins at home, and I sold them to Lee Allen that year, and that’s when I came out here and bought 2,000 acres at Englevale,” Walton says.

Two years later, in 1976, Walton started his processing business.

The last record year

The Walton family started processed pintos and eight to 10 farmers in the area were into irrigation and asked if he’d process beans for them.

“I didn’t even have a scale,” he says. “When their trucks came in, we didn’t have a scale for them. We’d process what were good beans and sold the good beans. In 1978 we put a scale in and we just kept getting more and more growers till we got up to 240 growers.”

In 1992, Walton sold the company to what then was Walton Bean Cooperative. Walton left the company for about two years, but he came back to the board before the cooperative was sold to Larson Grain Co., which still is operated in that name, operating in seed corn and fertilizer. Walton started his own company in a separate site west of the Larson Grain site he once owned. Walton Ag Services concentrates on pintos and blacks in ever-decreasing volumes as the acreage has declined. He also is a trader who buys beans for other processing plants.

A frost-damaged crop could help catapult the crop into pricing ranges that are bigger than 1973, which was a landmark year for him.

“Yep,” Walton says. “Mexico is going to be short. We’ve got a freeze. It seems like every time we turn around there’s another icing on the cake.”

“The acreage has been slipping the last three years, every year,” Walton says. “That’s because we couldn’t get the prices to the farmer that we wanted for the farmer.

The numbers didn’t work compared with the other crops. Edible beans are probably down 50 percent from 2010, Walton says, but the frost situation will have a big effect.