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Published April 03, 2013, 10:06 AM

Dry bean acres to drop

Lower prices cut crop’s appeal, but keep an eye on spring weather.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

An official with an area dry edible bean grower association says he’s neither surprised nor dismayed by a projected decline in dry bean acres this year.

“We expected less,” says Tim Courneya, executive vice president of Frazee, Minn.-based Northarvest Bean Growers Association. “It’s a matter of determining how much less we’re going to grow.”

A generally strong 2012 dry bean harvest pushed down prices of the crop, increasing the appeal of competing crops such as corn and soybeans, he says.

U.S. farmers are expected to plant 1.5 million acres of dry beans, down from 1.7 million acres in 2012, according to the annual late March projection by the National Agricultural Statistics Service, an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Dry bean acres in North Dakota, the nation’s top producer, are projected to drop to 550,000 acres from 700,000 acres in 2012.

Farmers in Minnesota, the nation’s third-leading producer of dry beans, will plant an estimated 150,000 acres, down from 160,000 last year.

Sales of dry bean seed had indicated an even bigger acreage decline, Courneya says.

Last year, U.S. farmers harvested 31.9 million hundredweight of dry beans, up from only 19.9 million hundredweight in 2011, when an exceptionally wet spring kept some area farmers from planting the crop.

The 31.9 million hundredweight harvested in 2012 were the most since the 33.1 million hundredweight in 1999.

Because demand for U.S. dry edible beans is fairly stable, the big increase from 2011 to 2012 in U.S. dry bean production pushed down prices, Courneya says.

“Demand is pretty regimented. When you overdo it (plant too many dry beans), the market can come crashing down on a guy,” he says.

Prices decline

Nationally, the average price for dry beans fell from $45.8 per hundredweight in July 2012 to $37.2 per hundredweight in January 2013.

In the same period, the average price received by North Dakota dry bean farmers fell by $10 per hundredweight, with the average price received by Minnesota dry bean producers declining by $11 per hundredweight, according to USDA.

Nine different dry bean varieties are grown in this area. Pinto beans are the most common. A year ago, area farmers on average were receiving $48 per hundredweight for pintos. Today, they’re receiving $31 to $32 per hundredweight, roughly two-third as much as a year ago, USDA says.

The price for new crop dry beans, ones planted this spring and harvested this fall, are about $33 per hundredweight.

Current dry bean prices are “good, not great,” Courneya says. In contrast, “Corn and soybeans give farmers some very attractive prices to look at.”

This year’s anticipated reduction in dry bean acres sets the stage “for better pricing. That’s what farmers are trying to get back to,” Courneya says. “The key to everything is you want farmers to be rewarded at the end with a strong price.”

Weather is wild card

A big wild card is the strong possibility of a late start to spring planting in areas of North Dakota and Minnesota where dry beans are popular.

Dry beans can be planted safely later than some other crops, which could cause dry bean acreage to increase if planting is delayed significantly.

Ideally, spring weather won’t have much effect on planting decisions, Courneya says.

“We hope everything is in rhythm this spring — that people can plant what’s their best deal (financially),” Courneya says.

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