Farmers favour soybeans

Manitoba producers | Interest in edible beans declining as soybeans rise

The new beans are hot.

The old beans are not.

That was obvious at the recent Manitoba Special Crops Symposium, where farmers crowded the walls and craned their necks from the hallway for the standing room-only soybean sessions, while 100 chairs went unused at the sparsely attended edible beans sessions.

It’s a sad but understandable situation for the edible beans industry, according to farmers and industry people who attended the two-day event.

“If I have a choice between a soybean that’s getting simpler to grow, and a navy bean that’s still complicated, and I still have questions and I’m still not sure the (fungicide will be effective), there’s a risk premium in there that’s got to be substantial or (I’ll say) ‘screw it, I’m growing soybeans,’ ” Brent Van Koughnet of Agri Skills said at the edible beans session.

The situation is killing farmer enthusiasm for edible beans, which have long been grown in the Red River Valley but which are stagnant or falling in acreage. Prices offer little reward for growing edible beans, which demand much more management than soybeans, can be devastated by disease and require marketing within a relatively minuscule market with few players.

At the same time, soybean acreage is soaring in the Red River Valley and is also being grown in western Manitoba and parts of Saskatchewan. Manitoba acreage grew from 300,000 in 2008 to expectations of 1.1 million this year. Meanwhile, edible beans acreage has had trouble maintaining 100,000.

Some think it’s a temporary situation of weak dry bean prices while soybean prices are strong.

“It’ll be back,” said Idaho Bean Commission commissioner Don Tolmie, who staffed a booth for his organization at the show.

“In 12 months, the oversupply will correct itself.”

Idaho seed bean company representative David Scholand made the same argument as he encouraged Manitoba growers to stick with the crop. Soybeans won’t always be the biggest moneymaker, he said.

“The advantage of dry beans is profit potential,” Scholand said in an interview.

“On dry beans, you can get a 3,000 pound crop and get a $40 price. With soybeans, you’re only 45 bushels, maybe, on a good crop, and it’s in the $12-$14 range. That’s as far as you can go.”

Manitoba Special Crops Growers Association executive director Michael Reimer said farmers are smitten with soybeans now, but that doesn’t mean dry beans will inevitably disappear. Edible beans will have their time, and the association wants to keep improving them so they stay competitive.

“Things can change quickly,” he said.

Alvin Klassen of SaskCan Pulse Trading said he expects to see U.S. dry bean production fall by 25 to 30 percent this year and Canadian production drop 30 to 40 percent.

In Manitoba, acreage will probably fall to 85,000 acres.

Soybeans were almost unknown in Manitoba just a decade ago and edible beans were a popular crop. This year, edible bean acres will probably drop to less than 10 percent of soybean acreage.

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