By Jonathan Knutson, Agweek
Tim Courneya sighed when asked how the region’s 2019 dry bean harvest is faring.
“It’s so hard to tell,” said Courneya, executive vice president of the Northarvest Bean Growers Association, based in Frazee, Minn. “It’s all over the board.”
This much is clear: though a handful of dry bean farmers have finished or are close to completing their harvest, the overall harvest is well behind schedule and overall yields won’t measure up to their excellent 2018 and 2017 levels.
Heavy, widespread rains in mid-September exacerbated an already gloomy outlook. Normally, 50% to 60% of the area’s dry beans are harvested by the middle of September; only 10% were harvested by that time this year, Courneya estimated.
The late, wet spring hampered planting of dry beans, as well as wheat, slowing the normal maturity of both crops. Typically, many dry bean growers harvest their crop after they finish combining their wheat. Because wheat harvest is later than usual this year, dry bean harvest was pushed back, too, Courneya said.
North Dakota is the nation’s leader in dry bean production, accounting for about one-third of the U.S. crop; farmers in South Dakota, Minnesota and Montana grow dry beans, too. There are many types of dry beans, including pinto, navy and black. Some are sold on the open market, others grown on contract.
Some parts of the region in which dry beans are grown had relatively dry conditions this spring and summer. Though that helped some farmers plant and harvest their dry beans on schedule, it also worked against yields, Courneya said.
Heavy rains this fall will work against yields in fields that once held the potential for good yields, he said.
North Dakota dry beans averaged about 1,800 pounds per acre last year. Yields this year will be closer to “more traditional levels,” he said.
New and better varieties of dry beans, as well as farmers’ greater experience in growing the crop, have pushed up yields over time. In 2010, for example, North Dakota averaged 1,490 pounds per acre of dry beans.
The prices that farmers receive for their dry beans generally is holding steady. For instance, pinto beans are fetching $21 to $22 hundredweight, compared with $20 to $22 per hundredweight last year, Courneya said.
Because yields are down this year in a key dry bean area, there could be upward pressure on bean prices.
“Prices need to sort themselves out and find their level,” Courneya said.
Demand also will influence prices. Mexico is the leading importer of U.S. dry beans, with black beans especially popular with Mexican consumers. As a result, U.S. black bean exports to Mexico — and black bean acres in the Upper Midwest — have been rising.
Given the importance of the Mexican market, the U.S. dry bean industry is hopeful that the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, the successor to the North American Free Trade Agreement, will be approved soon by the U.S. Congress, Courneya said.
“We need to get that done,” he said.
Despite the production challenges this fall, there’s reason to be optimistic about the future of dry beans, which increasingly are seen as affordable and nutritious by consumers.
Annual American consumption of dry beans peaked in the early 1940s at 9.6 pounds per person before beginning a long decline. But after bottoming out at 5.5 pounds per person in the early 1970s, annual consumption has rebounded steadily and currently stands at more than 7.5 pounds per person.
Courneya noted, however, that the supply of dry beans is rising, too.
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 the 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, accounted for about 1.2 million, Courneya said
The 2019 U.S.-Mexico International Bean Congress was held February 7-9 in Cancun, Mexico. During the event, seminars, discussions and one-on-one business meetings were held.
The U.S. dry bean industry was able to gather with the Mexican trade to celebrate numerous concurrent events such as:
- The signing of the U.S. Mexico Canada Trade Agreement (USMCA)
- World Pulses Day
- The long standing partnership with Mexican buyers
This year’s attendance was high with over 150 buyers, traders and industry representatives present. During the seminar portion of the Congress, speakers discussed World Pulses Day, new trends with beans and bean-based ingredients, U.S. and Mexico bean production trends and an overview of the Mexican political panorama.
Joe Mauch, Kevin Regan, Tom Kennelly and Tim Courneya represented the Northarvest Bean Growers Association the this year’s Congress.
Northarvest Bean Grower – Our Mission:
NHBGA, growers representing growers through the check-off system, is North America’s largest supplier of quality dry beans. Working together to better the industry through promotion, research, market development, education of consumers and monitoring of governmental policy. Our future goals must be continued market exposure and careful monitoring of new ideas, consumer choices, and producer needs.
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