Mexican bean shortage difficult to fill

The country’s crop will be half its normal size, but a poor harvest in Canada makes it a challenge to meet the extra demand

There will likely be huge demand for black and pinto beans coming out of Mexico this year. The problem will be finding ample supply to meet that demand, says an industry executive.

Mexico is harvesting half of a normal spring/summer crop, according to a recent report on the Global Pulse Confederation’s website.

Felipe Sandoval, a trader with Beans and Grains International Traders, estimates the country will produce 450,000 tonnes of beans in the season, 47 percent below last year.

The U.S. Dry Bean Council, which thinks it will be even smaller than that, is forecasting 400,000 tonnes.

Sandoval’s total includes 225,000 tonnes of black beans and 157,500 tonnes of pintos, both of which would be about half of last year’s crop.

The vastly reduced spring/summer crop fueled expectations for a bigger-than-usual fall/winter crop.

The market initially thought Mexican farmers would plant 250,000 acres of beans in the fall, but that didn’t happen.

Farmers planted an estimated 136,000 acres because of poor water availability, high seed costs and limited financing.

“The intention to plant more dry beans was there but these conditions made it too difficult for growers to follow through,” said Sandoval.

The fall/winter crop is also off to a rough start. More than 100 millimetres of rain fell in less than 48 hours in several fall/winter bean growing states in late November.

Mexico’s short crop should create healthy demand for pinto and black beans, two of the most popular classes grown in Western Canada.

However, poor crops in both Canada and the United States will limit exporters’ ability to service that demand, said John Ferguson, owner of Ferguson Brothers, a bean supplier from St. Thomas, Ont.

“Nobody is sitting on huge, burdensome surpluses to be able to go around and fill in all the void,” he said.

Grower prices for U.S. black beans increased 15 percent between the end of September and the end of November, while U.S. pinto bean prices shot up 38 percent over that time, according to Stat Publishing.

However, that hasn’t sparked much activity.

“There’s not much trading right now. The buyers are sitting and waiting or the sellers aren’t selling,” said Ferguson.

Dennis Lange, a pulse specialist with Manitoba Agriculture, said black bean prices are in the low 30 cents per pound range, which is typical. However, pinto prices are far from normal, approaching 40 cents per pound.

“It’s a pretty strong number for a pinto bean. We don’t usually see those kinds of numbers very often,” he said.

A recent market report from the Northarvest Bean Growers Association may shed some light on why that is the case. It says pinto beans are “practically sold out” in Mexico.

Lange said growers in Manitoba planted 154,000 acres of dry beans this year, which is much higher than the recent average of 120,000 acres.

However, 20 percent of the crop went unharvested and there were problems with what did come off the fields.

“On all bean types there was definitely some quality issues with some of the beans this year just because of the snow and rain and everything else,” he said.

Ferguson said China would previously have stepped in and brought the bean market back into balance, but lately it has been producing less and consuming more.

He believes Mexico may have to turn to Brazil once it harvests its next crop.

Ferguson thinks Brazil is going to be the next big competitive threat in the bean market.

He believes Brazilian farmers will shift some soybean acreage to dry beans after the U.S. and China sign a trade deal encouraging more U.S. soybean sales to China.

“They’re going to be looking for alternative crops down there,” said Ferguson.

“They’re going to be a bigger producer of dry beans in the future.”

South America has already become a much bigger player in the cranberry bean market.

“Brazil and Argentina are growing more and taking more of our European demand, and the market has just been slack the last few years,” he said.

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