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Published September 17, 2012, 11:25 AM

Nice surprise for dry beans

Area edible bean growers are finishing up a surprisingly good harvest, officials say.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

Area edible bean growers are finishing up a surprisingly good harvest, officials say.

“Yields are fairly good. Quality is good,” says Tim Courneya, executive vice president of the Northarvest Bean Growers Association in Frazee, Minn. “With so little rain and so much heat, who would have expected it?” North Dakota is the nation’s leading producer of edible beans. Minnesota ranks fourth.

Typically, most edible beans in the region are harvested from early September to early October. The early spring this year allowed beans to be planted and harvested earlier than usual. Many growers made rapid harvest progress in late August, while others waited for rain that would moisten dry beans and improve harvest conditions. Moderate rains late in the week of Sept. 3 helped provide the desired moisture, growers say.

In general, edible bean plants successfully put down roots this spring, which helped them tap good subsoil moisture, Courneya says.

While yields overall were average or a little better, they varied greatly. Some growers report very good yields, while others report poor.

Beans on light, sandy soil generally didn’t fare as well as beans on heavier, better soil, says Brian Engstrom, manager of Engstrom Bean and Seed in Leeds, N.D.

Though the summer generally was dry, some areas received meaningful rains that helped dry beans, says Tom Kennelly, a Grafton, N.D., farmer whose family has raised the crop since 1965.

Yields on his farm were average, while quality was outstanding, he says.

Prices take a stumble

Harvest pressure has worked against prices recently, says Gary Fuglesen, manager of Central Valley Bean Cooperative in Buxton, N.D.

In early September, farmers in North Dakota and Minnesota received $37 per hundredweight for pinto beans, the most common variety in the region. That was down from $38 per hundredweight a year earlier, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

By the middle of September, pinto prices had fallen to $35 per hundredweight, Engstrom says.

He and others say area edible bean growers generally will hang on to most of this year’s crop, in hopes that prices will rally. Engstrom is optimistic that prices will improve during the winter.

Courneya says the rule of thumb is that roughly 25 percent of the region’s edible beans are grown under contract. The percentage varies from year to year and by varieties, of which there are nine.

That means many area dry bean growers, at least the ones with average or better yields, still have a lot of beans to sell.

Kennelly says he naturally would like high prices for his crops. At the same time, he realizes some foreign customers, especially ones in Third World countries, can’t afford those high prices.

If U.S. bean prices stay too high too long, some foreign customers will switch to other competing products, he says.

About 20 percent of U.S. dry beans are exported, according to USDA.

Mexico accounts for a quarter of U.S. dry bean exports.

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