Dry beans absorb major hit

It has been a disastrous year for North American dry bean production and that will eventually result in rising prices, says an industry executive.

“Values to the farmer are slowly but surely going to improve and it don’t matter what class of bean you’ve got,” said Tim Courneya, executive vice-president of the Northarvest Bean Growers Association, which represents growers in North Dakota and Minnesota.

The United States is North America’s largest bean producer. Production prospects are dismal in that country.

He can’t recall a year like this since he started working for the association in 1976.

“It has been a fiasco,” said Courneya.

“It’s not going to look good on paper when it’s all said and done. It just can’t.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is forecasting 1.19 million tonnes of U.S. bean production but he believes that is extremely optimistic.

The USDA dropped its estimate by 38,000 tonnes between August and October.

Courneya spoke to one buyer who reduced his pinto bean production estimate for North Dakota and Minnesota by double that amount alone.

There were still a lot of beans remaining to be harvested at the end of October, some of which had been covered in a thick blanket of snow.

“It has just turned into being a very, very poor dry bean year,” he said.

Yields will be well below average in every bean-producing state.

“We have had zero bright spots,” said Courneya.

“We were fighting to get them in and we’re still fighting today.”

Crop quality is another concern. The white/navy beans have held up, but many pinto beans are discoloured.

“I don’t care where it is or which variety you grew. It just turns ugly,” he said.

The story is much the same in the other two bean-growing regions of North America.

Mexico is the second-largest North American producer of the crop. A survey conducted by the U.S. Dry Bean Council is forecasting 417,101 tonnes of spring/summer production, which is 53 percent below the long-term average.

Production of the country’s two bean crops is estimated to reach 700,298 tonnes, which is 38 percent below average.

Canada’s bean crop is also in rough shape but it doesn’t appear to be as bad off as the U.S. crop.

Dennis Lange, pulse crop specialist with Manitoba Agriculture, is forecasting yields of 1,300 to 1,500 pounds per acre in that province, which would be slightly below average.

The crop was about 60 percent harvested as of the end of October. Growing conditions have been less than ideal.

“We’ve had some quality challenges this year on dry beans because of the wet weather we’ve had,” he said.

Lange said this year’s crop is bad but it is a far cry from the miserable harvest of 2004 when yields averaged 300 to 400 lb. per acre after enduring a mid-August frost and a wet, ugly fall.

Crops that have been undercut and are lying on the ground are in bad shape but standing beans could still have decent quality.

He has seen some good quality navy and black bean samples but there is also plenty of “ugly stuff” being harvested that will have a tough time finding a home.

Bean growers often contract their first 800 to 1,000 lb. per acre of production, so they may not have a lot of overage to play with.

Courneya said growers south of the border are not eager to sell their uncontracted beans because they know processors will eventually become desperate for product.

“The market has to find its legs,” he said.

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