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Black beans are one of the many types of dry edible beans raised in the Upper Midwest. (File photo.)

'Status quo' for dry bean acres

In late March, Tim Courneya, executive vice president of the Northarvest Bean Growers Association, based in Frazee, Minn., asked the farmers-directors of his organization how many acres of dry edible beans they intend to plant this spring.

Their collective answer, Courneya said, was, "Status quo" — or roughly the same number of acres as they planted in 2018.

So Courneya wasn't surprised that the annual Prospective Plantings report, released March 29 by U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics Service, or NASS, projected 2019 U.S. dry bean acreage at 1.237 million, virtually the same as a year ago.

"Based on what I'm hearing, the Prospective Plantings number (for 2019 dry bean acres) is spot-on," Courneya said.

But the 2019 estimate requires some explanation. In the past, chickpeas and dry beans were combined in a single category in the annual NASS estimate — with consolidated dry bean acreage at 2.08 million in 2019. Dry beans, by themselves, dry accounted for about 1.2 million of the 2.08 million, Courneya said

This year, for the first time, chickpeas received their own category in the Planting Prospective report, with dry beans also standing alone. While the change may give the superficial impression that dry bean acres will plunge this year, the reality is that they apparently will hold steady, Courneya said.

The change is particularly noticeable in Montana, the nation's top chickpea-producing state. The crop typically fares best in semi-arid conditions, which eastern and central Montana provides.

Last year, NASS projected 2018 Montana dry bean acres at 395,000. Remember, that was combined dry bean and chickpea acres.

This year, the Prospective Planting report lists Montana dry bean acres as "discontinued." Farmers in the state grow so few dry beans that NASS didn't estimate them, said Eric Sommer, NASS Montana state statistician.

The change makes sense, Courneya said.

Though chickpeas, somewhat confusingly, also are known as garbanzo beans, they're really not like dry beans such as pintos, he said.

There are many types of dry beans, including pinto, navy and black. Some are sold on the open market, others grown on contract.

North Dakota is the nation's leader in dry bean production, with Minnesota near the top. Farmers in South Dakota and Montana grow dry beans, as well, although on a limited scale.

For now, at least, it appears that North Dakota and Minnesota farmers will plant the same number of acres to dry beans as they did a year ago. But that could change if uncooperative weather in April and May hampers planting. Dry beans can be planted safely later than some other crops, so farmers could add dry bean acres if planting delays limit the appeal of alternatives, Courneya said.