As farmers across North Dakota and Minnesota began harvesting dry edible beans in early September, they were finding yields that were just as unpredictable as the summer rains — or lack thereof.

“We’re seeing yields anywhere from four (100-pound) bags per acre to 25 bags an acre and everywhere in between,” said Dylan Karley, Johnstown (North Dakota) Bean general manager. Farmers who sell their pinto and black beans to Johnstown Bean Co. started harvesting their crop about Sept. 1, and combining ramped up each day after that, Karley said.

The variability in yields is not defined by location, but rather where the rains fell, he said.

“It can be a 25-bag yield, and a half mile away, a two-bag yield,” Karley said.

The average early-harvest yield of Johnstown Bean Co.'s trade area was from 1,200 to 1,300 pounds per acre, which is about 400 to 500 pounds less than the typical average of 1,700 pounds, he estimated.

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Overall, the forecast for North Dakota edible bean production is for 1,080 pounds per acre, which is about one-third less than last year’s yield of 1,630 pounds per acre, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service Aug. 12 crop production report.

Statewide, the condition of dry edible beans in North Dakota for the week that ended Sunday, Sept. 5, was 16% very poor, 35% poor, 33% fair and 16% good, National Agricultural Statistics Service-North Dakota said. Fourteen percent of the beans were harvested as of Sept. 5, slightly more than in 2020, and slightly less than the five-year average, the statistics service said.

No edible bean production estimates for Minnesota were available in the Aug. 12 NASS crop production report . Ten percent of the dry edible beans had been harvested as of Sept 5, according to National Agricultural Statistics Service-Minnesota. The statistics service rated 19% of the edible beans as good to excellent.

The quality of the edible beans in northeast Grand Forks County generally is good, but the drought resulted in a greater number of small beans than is typical, Karley said.

Meanwhile, rain during the past month has caused headaches for some Johnstown Bean customers because it rejuvenated the edible bean plants. Pods formed on the vines after the rain, so farmers have to decide whether to let the immature beans grow for a few more weeks and hope they will result in a larger yield or spray a desiccant on the vines that will kill them so they can be harvested.

Curt Kirking, customer relations manager for Kelley Bean in Cavalier, North Dakota, which accepts pintos, navies and black turtle and pink edible beans, is advising farmers to kill the vines.

In Kelley Bean’s trade area, farmers have shown Kirking fields in which 80% of the beans are ripe, while the fields’ headlands are green, Kirking said.

It's unlikely that during the next three weeks there will be enough heat units to spur enough growth in the beans to increase them to a size that makes them worthwhile to harvest, he said.

“Kill them and put them out of their misery,” Kirking said.

The edible beans harvest near Cavalier was just getting underway the week of Sept. 5, so it was too early to determine average yields, Kirking said.

However, he believes yields likely will be “all over the map,” he said.

“We have stuff that will be between 18 and 20 bags that are on last year’s wheat,” Kirking said. Meanwhile, edible beans that were planted on 2020 sugar beet acreage will yield 10 bags per acre or less, he estimated.

The edible bean market is poised for below average production, judging by the prices, which still are strong as farmers begin their harvest, said Tim Courneya, Northarvest Bean Growers executive vice president.

“They aren’t backing off,” he said. “We planted enough beans to be a little more bearish but the markets are bulled up.”

A few elevator Courneya called in early September were offering prices for navy beans that were in the high $30s per hundredweight and one had a price of $41 per hundredweight.

Pinto bean prices were $45 per hundredweight Sept. 7, Kirking said.

However, many of the early-harvested edible beans delivered to elevators will fill farmers’ contracts and won’t be sold on the open market, Courneya said.

“The open markets are substantially stronger than the contracts.” he said

For example, pinto bean contracts, offered early in the year were $26 per hundredweight, then climbed to $32 per hundredweight.

The contract prices gained momentum because they were buoyed by the corn and soybean markets. Farmers are hopeful that 2022 edible bean contracts will offer good prices because the industry will need to compete with corn and soybeans for acreage, Courneya said.