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Published May 29, 2012, 07:52 AM

Central Valley Bean is growing

BUXTON, N.D. — Beans have long been big in Buxton, N.D., and the hill is about to grow.

By: Ann Bailey, Agweek

BUXTON, N.D. — Beans have long been big in Buxton, N.D., and the hill is about to grow.

The Central Valley Bean Co-op has added five more bins, which will hold a total of 375,000 hundredweight (cwt.) of edible beans, increasing the cooperative’s capacity by more than a third. The elevator now will have storage for 800,000 cwt. of edible beans, says Gary Fuglesten, Central Valley Bean general manager.

Central Valley Bean, founded in 1982, handles navy and pinto beans. The amount of beans has grown nearly 20 times during the past 30 years and the cooperative has expanded several times to meet the increased processing and storage needs.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Central Valley Bean added more storage and in 1997 it built a new plant. The co-op increased its storage capacity again in 2004 and 2007.

As the cooperative has increased its storage and processing facilities, it also has expanded its customer base. About 350 farmers are active members of the cooperative, Fuglesten says. Farmers from as far away as Bismarck, N.D., — more than 200 miles from Buxton — grow pintos for the co-op.

Central Valley Bean has receiving stations in the North Dakota cities of Washburn, Devils Lake, Hatton, Reynolds, Pisek, Kloten and Lankin and in East Grand Forks, Minn., Fuglesten says.

Canners, packagers and dehydrating companies from across the United States buy the co-op’s pinto beans. It also markets 50- and 100-pound bags of beans to smaller businesses, such as grocery store chains, under the name of Valiant. Valiant is the mascot for Central Valley School near Buxton, Fuglesten notes.

Come harvest, Central Valley Bean not only will handle navies and pintos, but also black beans.

Adding black beans

This month, the cooperative purchased Larimore (N.D.) Bean Co. in partnership with Co-op Elevator Co. in Pigeon, Mich. The former Larimore plant, now called Alliance Bean, LLC, will handle pinto and black beans. Alliance Bean and its receiving station in Sharon, N.D., will have capacity for about 240,000 cwt. of edible beans.

“For years, people have been asking us to handle blacks,” Fuglesten says. “This plant has been too busy,” he notes during an interview in the Central Valley Bean office in Buxton.

“We heard the Larimore elevator was for sale, so we talked to them.” Central Valley Bean and Co-op Elevator took over ownership of the Larimore plant on May 23.

With the addition of the Larimore plant, Central Valley Bean now can process black beans and ship them to the Co-op Elevator, which will market them, Fuglesten says.

The Buxton cooperative is one of several bean plants across North Dakota and Minnesota that have diversified into black beans, says Tim Courneya, Northarvest Bean Growers Association executive vice president. That’s come at the request of growers, he says.

“Farmers have been wanting to have options other than navies and pintos,” Courneya says.

Production

Black bean acreage and production in North Dakota was third, behind pintos and navies in 2010, the latest year for which statistics were available.

In 2010, North Dakota farmers harvested 98,000 acres of black beans, which produced 1.45 million cwt., according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service. That year, North Dakota farmers harvested 509,000 acres of pintos, which produced 7.53 million cwt., the statistics service says. North Dakota navy acres, meanwhile, were 128,000. Farmers produced 1.96 million cwt. of navies in 2010.

In Minnesota, black bean acreage and production in 2010 was second, behind navies, NASS says. Minnesota farmers harvested 30,000 acres of black beans which produced 420,000 cwt., the statistics service says. Minnesota’s harvested navy acres were 65,200 and navy bean production in 2010 was 1.24 million cwt. The 23,800 acres of pintos that farmers harvested produced 309,000 cwt.

Total edible bean production for North Dakota in 2010 was 11.47 million cwt. Minnesota farmers produced a total of 3 million cwt.

The agronomic qualities of black beans, which include varieties for northern growth, their resistance to white mold and the fact that they grow upright and can be direct-harvested makes them an attractive alternative for farmers, Courneya says. Planting black beans, along with navies and pintos, helps farmers spread out their risk.

Another thing farmers like about black beans, of course, is the price they fetch.

Black bean prices in North Dakota were $42 per cwt. on May 21, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department.

Growing popularity

Black beans have seen growth in Walsh County, N.D., particularly in the west, says Brad Brummond, North Dakota State University Extension agent for Walsh County. They started gaining popularity with the county’s farmers about five years ago, he says

“The blacks out west are probably replacing sunflowers,” Brummond says. “The big reason the guys out west turned to them was the blackbirds in the sunflowers.”

Farmers having problems with blackbirds wanted to replace them with a high-value crop they could raise, and black beans fit the bill, Brummond says. Western Walsh County farmers know that frost is a risk with black beans, but they’re willing to take it, he says.

“They’d rather take the risk on the frost front, than the reality of the blackbirds taking their sunflowers,” Brummond says.

Walsh County farmers grew about 100,000 acres of edible beans in 2011. The majority of those were pintos and the remainder included navies, blacks and pinks.

“My gut feeling is the blacks are going head-to-head with the navies,” he says.

Growing market

In the past, North Dakota and Minnesota farmers who grew black beans typically had to wait awhile before they could sell them, Fuglesten says.

“Twenty-seven years ago, when I started here, you maybe had to wait two years because there wasn’t a market for them.”

That’s changed as domestic use and exports have grown.

The primary export market for black beans is Mexico, Courneya says. The United States also exports black beans to the Caribbean, Central America, South America, Venezuela and Brazil. Total black bean exports and U.S. usage is about 4 million cwt. annually, Courneya says.

U.S. usage has grown as the country’s Cuban and Hispanic population have increased and as Americans have started eating black beans in dishes and soups. Meanwhile, black beans are increasingly on the menu at restaurants.

U.S. consumption of black beans is 1.9 million cwt. or 6 pounds per capita, Courneya says.

“It used to be nothing,” he notes.

“For the growth of our commodity, it is the shining star,” Courneya says. “It’s bringing a lot of good awareness to beans, in general. It’s been a fantastic piece of evidence, where something can start from zero and show huge growth.”

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