Perfect growing conditions for dry beans

The USDA forecasts a 36 per cent increase in bean production over last year. | File photo

The drought in the United States that has dramatically reduced corn and soybean yields hasn’t had the same effect on the dry bean crop.

“What we’re going to have is going to be probably a typical crop,” said Larry Sprague, export sales manager with Kelley Bean Co., a Nebraska firm that is one of the world’s largest marketers of edible beans.

Forty-five percent of the crops in North Dakota, Michigan and Nebraska, which produce 60 percent of the U.S. bean crop, are in good to excellent condition.

Sprague said the potential was there for an above-average crop, but a hot and dry July caused pod abortion and a lack of pod fill in some areas.

Michigan could have above average yields, and Sprague said the same is likely true for Ontario.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is forecasting 1.7 million acres of beans and 1.23 million tonnes of production. That would be a 36 percent increase in production over last year’s flooded out crop and in line with average output between 2008 and 2010.

The USDA forecasts 198,000 tonnes of navy beans, 490,000 tonnes of pintos and 153,000 tonnes of blacks.

Manitoba’s bean crop also appears to be in good shape.

“We’ve kind of had, so far, perfect growing conditions throughout the season. There has been adequate moisture but not excess moisture,” said Kyle Friesen, a grower from Altona, Man., and president of the Manitoba Pulse Growers Association.

“I think there’s pretty good crop potential out there right now.”

Dennis Lange, farm production adviser with Manitoba Agriculture, said bean plants are starting to drop their lower leaves, a sign that they’re shutting down because of the hot and dry July conditions.

“Overall, the crop still looks relatively good. We could have used some rain a couple of weeks ago,” he said.

Lange expects yields will be 1,500 to 1,600 pounds per acre for navy beans and 1,700 lb. per acre for pintos, which is average for those classes.

Friesen expects an average to slightly above average crop.

Crop insurance records indicate Manitoba growers planted 136,000 acres of beans, which is a big rebound from the 51,000 acres seeded last year because of extensive flooding but below the 140,000 to 145,000 acres planted in the three years before 2011.

The 2012 total includes 50,000 acres of navies, 49,000 acres of pintos and 14,000 acres of blacks.

Sprague said the return to normal acreage levels and average yields in North America will have little impact on bean markets.

He’s going to pay more attention to whether U.S. growers are able to contract corn, soybeans and wheat at harvest time at prices similar to the last couple of months.

“If they do, that’s going to put a lot of stress on the bean acres for 2013,” said Sprague.

Beans are going to have a tough time competing with the bigger crops, especially given the black bean outlook.

Mexico didn’t buy nearly as many black beans this year as it has in the previous three years. That has resulted in considerable carryover of the crop, which should satisfy Mexican demand for the next four to six months before buyers turn to new crop supplies.

Sprague said the black bean scenario will likely weigh down the entire dry bean market.

“We very well could see a situation this fall with cheaper prices than what farmers would like to see,” he said. “We’ve got a tough situation in dry beans right now for the market. Not that (prices) are going to crash and burn, but farmers will have to be patient.”

U.S. growers don’t want to sell beans for less than $40 US per hundredweight. It may take a while to achieve those levels.

The good news is that with the culling of the U.S. livestock herd and a disappointing U.S. vegetable harvest for the canning market, there may be good demand for a protein substitute such as beans, especially if there’s a cold winter that leads to increased consumption of chilies and soups.

The U.S. bean harvest will begin this week and should be in full swing by the first weekend in September.

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