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Edible beans. Erin Brown photo.

Snow delays end of dry bean harvest

Unharvested Upper Midwest dry bean fields will be hurt by widespread mid-October snow, but it's too early to predict the extent of the damage, a dry bean official said.

"The good news is, it's still early enough that it's probably going to melt. But if it doesn't melt, this will be a long winter for some guys," Tim Courneya, executive vice president of the Northarvest Bean Growers Association, based in Frazee, Minn., said Oct. 11.

The vast majority of Upper Midwest dry beans, at least 90 percent overall, was harvested before the snow. But there are pockets, in which uncooperative spring weather delayed planting, where many dry beans haven't been harvested yet, he said.

North Dakota leads the nation in dry bean production, and parts of eastern North Dakota received more than a foot of snow Oct. 10-11.

Minnesota is a top dry bean producer as well, while Montana and South Dakota farmers also grow the crop. All three states also received snow during the recent snow, though generally not as much as eastern North Dakota.

Soybeans, which like dry beans are close to the ground and difficult to harvest in accumulated snow, are a top concern after the storm. That reflects the large number of soybean acres — about 7 million in North Dakota this year, compared to 550,000 dry bean acres in the state — and the large number of soybean acres still unharvested. Roughly two-thirds of Upper Midwest soybeans haven't been harvested, compared to 10 percent or less of area dry beans, according to the most recent U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates.

Unharvested dry beans tend to be even closer to the ground than soybeans, potentially making the former more difficult to harvest, Courneya said.

Another concern: There are many kinds of dry beans, including pinto, navy and black, and the color of harvested beans is particularly important for some varieties. Beans that sit too long in fields before harvest can lose ideal quality, and that can lead to discounts, or price reductions, Courneya said.

Area dry bean farmers enjoyed record yields overall in 2017. A long stretch of hot, dry weather late this summer was widely assumed to have cut sharply into 2018 yields.

So Courneya said he's "somewhat amazed" by new USDA estimates that 2018 average dry bean yields in North Dakota and Minnesota will be close to the 2017 yields.

Whatever the final yield numbers, they'll be hurt by the nearing-of-the-end-of-harvest snow, "which we sure didn't want to see," Courneya said. "But it's what Mother Nature brought us, and we'll have to deal with it."