Dakota Dry Bean finds exports markets where their peas are needed most

The fact that David Polries is exporting Red River Valley crops all over the world is not unusual. "We export to South Korea, Taiwan, India, Sri Lanka, African countries from Algeria to Angola to Chad, to wherever, and to Central America and Chin...

The fact that David Polries is exporting Red River Valley crops all over the world is not unusual.

"We export to South Korea, Taiwan, India, Sri Lanka, African countries from Algeria to Angola to Chad, to wherever, and to Central America and China, too," he says.

That he exports most of the peas his farmers produce to starving people and struggling countries is reason for them to take a bit of extra pride in their work.

"We're feeding people -- I'm sure millions -- because we ship out about 45,000 to 50,000 metric tons a year, most of it into Africa," the owner of Dakota Dry Bean Inc. says.

The East Grand Forks, Minn., company sells about 75 percent of its farmers' peas to the U.S. Agency for International Development. The agency supplies foodstuffs to some of the world's poorest countries to "extend a helping hand to those people overseas struggling to make a better life, recover from a disaster or striving to live in a free and democratic country," according to USAID information.


Polries' 50,000 metric tons of peas, which are high in B-complex vitamins, vitamin C and vitamin A, are part of that effort.

Building the business

Polries grew up on farm in Sykeston in east-central North Dakota, raising grain and feeding cattle. He had quit farming by the late 1980s and went to work running dry bean plants.

"The first dry bean plant I worked for was Lee Bean and Seed in Borup, Minn.," he says. "I was the plant operator."

After that, he ran the bean plant for Portland (N.D.) Farmers Coop, followed by a short stint at Walton Bean Growers Coop in Englevale, N.D., and then Farmer's Finest Bean Co. in East Grand Forks.

While there, he started his own project.

"I started the Dakota Dry Bean Report," he says. "I used to write a weekly report on the dry bean market."

The report was distributed to farmers via by mail and by e-mail, and well-liked by his readers.


"At one time, I had a couple hundred subscribers," he says.

In summer 1998, Farmer's Finest sold out to a Canadian company.

"Usually when someone buys a company, they put their own manager in," he says. "I figured my time was limited, so I decided to start my own business."

Dakota Dry Bean Inc. started out as a marketing company. Polries marketed dry beans for farmers, but when the first winter proved too slow a time for him, a friend talked him into getting into peas.

"That's when I originally started," he says. "It's kind of funny. When I first started, I told myself, because I'd run processing plants, that I'd never own a processing plant. But what you find out is, in order to guarantee your customer quality, you have to be involved in all parts of the process. The only way to do it right is do it yourself."

Dakota Dry Bean will handle about 2.2 million bushels of peas this year. Ninety percent of them are split and processed in East Grand Forks and his two North Dakota plants in Crary and Devils Lake in North Dakota. He also has a receiving station in Lansford, N.D., which is going to be converted soon into another processing plant.

Polries also has a new automated barley pearling line at his East Grand Forks plant.

"We just started last year," he says. "It's mostly going domestically, but we've shipped some overseas."


The domestic barley goes for packaging or for pet food, while the overseas shipments are milled into flour.

"We'll probably ship close to 800,000 to 1 million bushels this year," he says.

Overseas markets

Dakota Dry Beans began building its export business in the early 1990s and now exports all over the globe.

"It's all done by ocean. Most of our export stuff goes through Montreal. It's just cheaper ocean freight from there," Polries says.

Getting to Montreal by rail also is a good deal, he says.

"BNSF is a good railroad. We haven't had hardly any trouble with railroad cars," he says.

He does ship mostly with boxcars to the seaports, where his bagged product is transferred into containers for the ocean leg of the trip.


Polries says the company's shipping method is more efficient because it sidesteps the necessity of having empty containers brought inland, a huge issue for many North Dakota exporters. The company also bags its product before shipping, which Polries says "helps keep the uniqueness of your product."

"You can ship bulk to port, but it's a lot harder to be sure that they don't mix with something. But if you got it in a bag, it's contained," he says.

Dakota Dry Bean loaded nearly 700 boxcars last year. He currently is working on finding markets in the Middle East, where yellow peas are a staple food.

"We're trying to expand our commercial export business. We want to expand into Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Dubai -- that area. Of course, we know they re-export, but . . . their money's good," he says.

Finding business contacts in the region is easier said than done, but to help with that, Polries has joined the North Dakota Trade Office. The trade office offers exporter advocacy and education and makes regular trips overseas to establish business connections for NorthDakota exporters. The group will fly to Turkey this month for that reason and expects to return with contact information on several Middle Eastern importers.


About 75 percent of Dakota Dry Bean peas are sold to USDA for food aid to countries stricken by drought or natural disasters or those without enough agricultural ability to feed themselves.

"They call it PL480 (public law 480) business," Polries says. "It goes for food relief. We also sell directly to the World Food Program."


In Africa, his peas are going to Sudan and Ethiopia, among other countries.

"We have also shipped into other countries like North Korea and Indonesia," he says.

One of the biggest misconceptions people have about food aid is that it is being paid for by American taxpayers, he says.

"Most of the food aid that's shipped is a payment in kind," he says, pointing out that the added business -- he gets about the same price at USDA as others get on the open market -- is good for farmers.

"That's really who it helps," he says.

Still, there is some skepticism about the aid programs.

"People say that it depresses the price of food in Africa so they don't raise food and they're dependant on food aid," he says. "The problem is, a

lot of the problems with agriculture over there have nothing to do with food aid; it has to do with civil war. If they would buy food locally in Africa, it would raise prices so high that more people would starve. You would see prices probably double or triple of what they are now."


He points out India, as an example of the good effect food aid can have.

"Food aid went into India for a long time, I think we shipped into India for 20 years, until their own agriculture

base got so that they're really self-sufficient," he says. "They buy imports, but their economy is really improved so they don't need food aid, anymore."

The governments whose people are being fed can use more funds to build their own agricultural base, so they can become more self-sufficient.

Teach a man to fish, as they say.

"I don't think it's up to the U.S. farmer to pay for their agriculture, but by giving food aid, we take that burden of providing food for the starving from

their government, and they have more money available to help their own farmers. That's what they should be doing -- getting their own farm economy up and going so they don't need food aid."

USAID foods are shipped to private volunteer organizations who handle the in-country distribution. The U.S. government does not distribute the food.

"Food aid is important because we put food in there, free of charge, for people who can't afford it," Polries says. "They don't give it to people who can afford it."

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