COVID-19 stockpiling prompts surge in dry bean demand

Dry, edible beans are one of the commodities people have been stockpiling in case they are quarantined during the COVID-19 outbreak.

“There has been a huge surge in demand everywhere,” said Rebecca Bratter, executive director of the United States Dry Bean Council, an organization that promotes bean consumption in the U.S. and around the world.

There are no published statistics on the impact the pandemic has had on consumption but conversations with state associations and the old-fashioned eyeball test tell her it has been substantial.

“I’ve heard something between a 40 and 50 percent increase in demand,” which is pretty outstanding,” said Bratter.

“Shelves are being cleared out pretty fast. They are being restocked but it seems like the stockers can’t keep up.”

She said the surging demand has had an impact on retail bean prices but the ripple effect hasn’t made it back to the farmgate.

“I don’t think enough time has gone by yet,” said Bratter.

Ben Martens, a bean grower from Boissevain, Man., thinks the COVID-19 demand shock is starting to have an impact at the grower level.

“There must be something to it because some of the U.S. companies are offering strong prices,” he said.

Bean prices were already higher than they have been in a while due to a short crop and rising demand for the commodity as consumers embrace the move to plant-based proteins.

Canadian bean growers have also benefited from the weak Canadian dollar, resulting in higher export revenue.

Martens is mainly involved in the production of black beans but he hears prices for navy and pinto beans have escalated this crop year because it was a particularly difficult harvest for those classes.

He thinks edible bean acreage will be on the rise in 2020 as there appears to be renewed interest in the crop. Manitoba bean meetings were well attended this winter.

More farmers are able to grow beans these days due to new varieties and new harvest and planting equipment. Acreage is slowly creeping west out of Manitoba’s Red River Valley.

“If you can do it well and if you get the right weather and the right environment it can be quite rewarding,” said Martens.

Farmers across North America did not receive the right weather in 2019. Production fell seven percent in Canada, 17 percent in the U.S. and 47 percent in Mexico.

But there is still adequate supply to meet the sudden surge in demand for the commodity.

“We’re not going to run out of beans,” said Bratter.

North American carryout was already expected to be low before the COVID-19 demand shock. She anticipates growers will be increasing bean acres in 2020, but doesn’t know by how much.

One complicating factor is it is extremely wet in the U.S. Northern Plains region where many of the country’s beans are grown. Wet conditions in 2019 led to last year’s small crop.

Martens is also unsure what magnitude of increase to expect in Canada. Bean planting in Manitoba isn’t complete until late May or early June and nobody knows what the weather conditions will be at that time.

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