Despite challenging weather, yields have generally exceeded expectations.

By Dario Bard

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Widespread drought conditions in the Central Plains. Flooded fields in Michigan. Planting delays due to rains in much of the rest of the dry bean growing area. This was the panorama growers faced as they finished putting their dry bean crop in the ground. Understandably, initial expectations were pessimistic, and although conditions generally improved as the growing season progressed, the overriding feeling remained restrained.

“I think we all suffered the same strange weather,” says Judd Keller of the Kelley Bean Company. He sums it up with one word: Inconsistent.

But now with harvest wrapped up, the reports coming in from the major bean growing areas is that yields outperformed expectations.

“I think yields were surprisingly high,” says Todd Wisenbaugh of the Michigan-based Co-op Elevator, voicing a sentiment heard throughout much of the dry bean growing area. Using North Dakota, the biggest dry bean producing state in the U.S., as a case in point, Wisenbaugh notes, “All season the news from there was that conditions were dry and very hot. The expectation was there wasn’t going to be a very big black bean crop there. But at harvest, they had some record yields.”

“Everyone thought the yields would be down,” says Carter Wilson of the J.P. Wilson Company reporting from Idaho. “But at harvest, everybody I talked to was really surprised. The yields came in outstanding.”

Back in July, when the various dry bean dealer associations presented their numbers at the U.S. Dry Bean Convention, their production estimates added up to a crop of 26,810,005 cwt. In its August 10th Crop Production Report, the USDA estimated production at 34.2 million cwt. That number was revised upward to 35.3 million cwt in its November 9th report. A good part of the difference between the dealer and USDA numbers is due to the USDA’s inclusion of the large chickpea crop out of the Palouse, a region not covered by the dealer associations. This is one reason IFT has decided to cover the chickpea harvest separately from the dry bean harvest.

When chickpeas are factored out of the equation, the dry bean dealers’ July estimate falls to 24,596,277 cwt. The USDA has not yet issued an estimate on the size of the chickpea crop, but estimates from sources consulted by IFT fall in a range between just over 5 million cwt to slightly over 5.4 million cwt. That would mean the dry bean crop came in at about 30 million cwt, roughly 29% above last year’s production.

To get reactions to this estimate and provide readers with a closer look at the 2017 U.S. dry bean crop, IFT reached out to its network of industry insiders across the six dry bean dealer regions.

Dry Bean Production by Class as Reported by the U.S. Dry Bean Dealers in July

 
BEAN CLASS ACRES PLANTED

PRODUCTION (in cwt)

Pinto 693,042 12,064,855
Pink 15,841 269,005
Small red 19,680 422,981
Small white 1,298 30,862
Navy 195,272 3,339,136
Great northern 65,645 1,503,576
Black 224,427 3,829,179
Cranberry 7,392 147,926
Light red kidney 31,719 623,776
Dark red kidney 50,395 939,600
Large lima 11,113 260,002
Baby lima 7,938 195,206
Blackeye 17,907 336,176
Other 36,059 633,997
U.S. TOTAL 1,377,728 24,596,277

Note: Chickpea production has been factored out.

Source: U.S. Dry Bean Council

North Central Region

Nearly half of all U.S. dry bean production originates in the North Central Region, which includes the top pulse growing state of North Dakota, as well as the states of Minnesota and Wisconsin. The major bean classes grown here are pinto, navy, black and kidney beans.

This year, the region experienced dry conditions early on in the growing season. In North Dakota, Bill Thoreson of North Central Commodities reports that at planting the state was under drought conditions, with the western two thirds of the state under severe drought conditions. Much needed relief came in the form of rains in late July into August. In the words of Thoreson, “that allowed us to have a crop”.

At harvest, things were moving along nicely, says Thoreson of the crop in his area, until it started raining with about 40% of the crop still out in the fields. The wet weather slowed things down and extended the harvest through mid-October.

On pinto beans, Thoreson reports the yields were slightly better than average and likely ended up higher than the 15 bags per acre reported at the U.S. Dry Bean Convention back in July. He describes the black bean yields as average overall.

In terms of quality, Thoreson describes the black bean crop as good and the pinto bean crop as “the best we’ve had in several years”. The 60% to 70% of the pinto crop that was harvested before the rains have an especially excellent, white color, notes Thoreson, adding that the color on the rest of the pinto beans was also better than expected given the harvest rains.

Reviewing the numbers presented at the Convention in July, Thoreson expects that the North Central Region’s pinto bean crop exceeded the 6.4 million cwt reported at the time. He also believes the black bean crop ended up larger than the 1.86 million cwt reported back then.

“These volumes aren’t going to be a burden on the market,” he says. “I do believe we might see yields higher than what a lot of people thought they were going to be, but at the same time we are not going to end up with a burdensome crop.”

North Central Region Dry Bean Production by Class (as reported in July)

BEAN CLASS ACRES PLANTED

YIELDS (bags per acre)

PRODUCTION (in cwt)

Pinto 431,100 15.00 6,466,500
Pink 10,000 15.00 150,000
Small red 1,500 16.00 24,000
Navy 130,000 16.00 2,080,000
Great northern 3,400 17.00 57,800
Black 120,000 15.50 1,860,000
Light red kidney 12,000 20.00 240,000
Dark red kidney 45,000 19.00 855,000
Other 18,000 16.00 288,000
TOTAL 771,000   12,021,300

Note: Chickpea production has been factored out.

Source: U.S. Dry Bean Council

Rocky Mountain Region

The Rocky Mountain Region is the most extensive of the dry bean growing regions, stretching across nine states: Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Texas, Utah and Wyoming. The major classes produced here are pinto beans and great northern beans. In the case of the latter, as much as 85% of production is typically concentrated in Nebraska alone. Furthermore, the Texas Panhandle normally produces more than 50% of the total U.S. blackeye pea crop.  

This year, wet conditions throughout much of the region delayed crop planting and as a result pushed back the seeding of beans, which are one of the last crops to be plowed into the ground. Additionally, excessive rainfall in the spring necessitated the replanting of some bean fields. In the summer, the weather was variable.

“We had cool and wet weather during the summer with some breaks of really warm weather that pushed the crop along,” says Keller of the Kelley Bean Company.

Over the course of the growing season, there were some losses. Keller reports that hail storms knocked down a fair number of acres near Alliance, Nebraska, where a good number of pinto and great northern beans are grown. But the worst damage occurred in the Texas Panhandle, where excessive rains in September flooded out a good deal of the blackeye pea crop. Bobby Redwine of Texas Best Bean and Seed reports that the rain also affected the quality of the crop to the extent that many growers opted to leave fields unharvested, the beans being in such bad shape.

Elsewhere in the Rocky Mountain region, a cool, wet spell in late summer saw the harvest get off to a late start. Consequently, it wrapped up about two weeks behind schedule.

“It was a strange growing season with weather that was unusual, but not disruptive,” sums up Keller. “In the end the yields turned out better than what people anticipated.”

Based on feedback from Kelley Bean Company plant managers, Keller estimates the pinto and great northern bean yields at 23 to 24 bags per acre. On the blackeye pea crop, Keller estimates about 10% of the crop was harvested before the rains hit.

“That first 10% looked beautiful,” says Keller. “But with the rest of it, they are having cleanout of 30% or more. The normal yield is about 12 bags or so. This year, it’s coming in at 4 to 6 bags.”

The blackeye planted area, though, ended up above the 11,000 acres reported in July at the Convention, says Keller. He explains that a few thousand acres were added as growers in the Panhandle planted blackeyes over a failed cotton crop. Given these variables, he estimates the region’s blackeye pea production a 60,000 to 70,000 cwt.

With respect to the quality of the crop for the other bean classes, Keller divides the it in two categories: pre-rain and post-rain.

“The pre-rain pintos look really good, but the part of the crop that got caught in the rain at harvest took on a lot of color,” he says.

The same is true of the light red kidney bean crop, with the pre-rain beans having a nice, pink color, but the post-rain beans having a browner toner. The darker color is of concern for packagers, but not for canners and refriers.

On great northerns, Keller reports good color overall, although the beans that were harvested after the rains tend to be somewhat wrinkled.

In terms of overall production for the region, Keller says that based on the USDA’s latest acreage figures, he estimates the Rocky Mountain dry bean crop at more than 8 million cwt.

Rocky Mountain Region Dry Bean Production by Class (as reported in July)

BEAN CLASS ACRES PLANTED

YIELDS (bags per acre)

PRODUCTION (in cwt)
Pinto 219,827 21.29 4,680,284
Navy 3,074 22.27 68,448
Great northern 58,172 23.35 1,358,483
Black 5,075 26.07 132,287
Light red kidney 8,917 21.69 193,390
Blackeye pea 11,610 15.35 178,210
Other 6,233 22.25 138,708
TOTAL 312,908   6,749,810

Note: Chickpea production has been factored out.

Source: U.S. Dry Bean Council

Michigan

Michigan is the second biggest dry bean producing state behind North Dakota and is especially renowned for its high-quality black bean crop. It also produces a sizable navy bean crop.

For the most part, this year’s beans went in the ground under good conditions, although heavy rains caused the tail end of the crop to be planted as late as the first week of July and necessitated some replantings. Wisenbaugh of the Co-op Elevator estimates perhaps 4% of the crop was replanted. Despite some flooding, he reports that the loss of area was minimal. As the growing season progressed into the summer, the crop benefited from timely rains and moderate temperatures. Because of the rain delays at planting, the harvest extended into mid-November, about one to two weeks behind schedule.

“We didn’t have really hot weather, and especially not during the time when the beans were blossoming, which helped with the yields,” says Wisenbaugh.

He estimates the black bean yields at 18.5 to 19 bags per acre, and the navy bean yields at 18.5 bags per acre.

“We were very surprised here in Michigan,” remarks Wisenbaugh about the yields. “We had no idea we’d end up with a crop like this.”

In terms of quality, Wisenbaugh notes, “Last year we had a lot of variation in size and color. This year, the crop is very uniform. The navy beans have a nice, white luster to them and I’d say overall we have very nice quality beans this year.”

Reviewing the production numbers reported at the Convention in July, Wisenbaugh feels the black bean crop probably ended up slightly above the 1.6 million cwt figure presented at the time. On navy beans, he feels the July estimate of 1.1 million cwt is still fairly accurate.

“This year, we have good production and good quality,” says Wisenbaugh. “I think end users are going to be very pleased with this crop.”

Michigan Dry Bean Production by Class (as reported in July)

BEAN CLASS ACRES PLANTED

YIELDS (bags per acre)

PRODUCTION (in cwt)
Pinto 1,840 15.00 27,600
Small red 5,520 20.00 110,400
Navy 59,800 19.00 1,136,200
Black 89,746 18.00 1,615,428
Cranberry 3,680 15.00 55,200
Light red kidney 7,360 16.00 117,760
Dark red kidney 2,760 12.00 33,120
Other 4,094 15.00 61,410
TOTAL 174,800   3,157,118
Source: U.S. Dry Bean Council

Idaho

Idaho produces most of the country’s dry bean seed supply.  Depending on bean class, the amount of production destined for seed use ranges from 65% to 90%. Idaho’s small red and pink bean crop, however, are exceptions to this rule: most of the production of these classes is sold for consumption.

Despite wet weather, Idaho growers managed to get the bean crop in the ground in a timely manner. With planting concluded, hot weather set in during the months of July and August.

“We had a terribly hot summer,” says Wilson of the J.P. Wilson Company. “July and August were especially hot. In fact, there was concern that the heat was stressing the plant and might cause abortive blossoming.”

In late October, rains slowed down the combines and extended the harvest to about mid-November, which is 10 days later than usual.

As the crop came in off the fields, the big surprise was that, despite the heat stress, the yields exceeded expectations. This was especially the case with the pinto bean crop.

“There will be a bump in pinto yields this year,” says Wilson. “We typically report 20.5 bags per acre,” he continues, citing the figure that indeed was reported at the Convention in July, “but that is going to be up considerably this year. We could well end up with yields at 23 to 24 bags per acre on average.”

In fact, Wilson sees yields up across the board. At the Convention, pink bean yields were reported at 20 bags; Wilson believes they may end up at 22 bags. Small red bean yields were estimated at 22 bags in July; with the harvest now in, Wilson estimates they ended up closer to 23 bags. Similarly, Wilson estimates black bean yields at 20 bags, up from the 19 bags presented at the Convention.

In terms of the quality of this year’s beans, Wilson describes it as very good for the most part, except for the tail end of the crop that was caught out in the rain.

“If the plants were standing, then the cop was fine. But if they were cut in the windrow, there will be some quality issues,” says Wilson.

He describes the color on the pinto beans as nice and bright.

Reviewing the production numbers reported for Idaho at the Convention, Wilson considers that they need to be adjusted upward to account for the bump in yields.

Idaho Dry Bean Production by Class (as reported in July)

BEAN CLASS ACRES PLANTED

YIELDS (bags per acre)

PRODUCTION (in cwt)
Pinto 28,150 20.50 577,075
Pink 5,500 20.00 110,000
Small red 10,000 22.00 220,000
Small white 500 20.00 10,000
Navy 1,500 20.00 30,000
Great northern 3,000 20.00 60,000
Black 4,200 19.00 79,800
Cranberry 1,000 19.00 19,000
Light red kidney 2,000 16.00 32,000
Dark red kidney 2,200 18.00 39,600
Other 1,250 18.00 22,500
U.S. TOTAL 59,300   1,199,975

Note: Chickpea production has been factored out.

Source: U.S. Dry Bean Council

California

California is renowned for its premium quality dry bean production. The major commercial classes grown in the state are large and baby lima beans, and blackeye peas.

For the most part, California’s dry bean crop went into the ground under wet conditions. Mark Kirsten of Kirsten Company reports that some areas received excess moisture. As a result, some blackeye peas and large lima beans were planted late.

During the summer, hot weather kicked in fairly quickly, with temperatures rising to the point of an extended heatwave from late July into early August.

“In some cases, the crop suffered from heat stress,” says Kirsten. The blackeye pea crop was mostly spared the worst of it, he says, but the lima bean crop, especially the large lima beans, were hit hard right during the blossoming stage.

During the fall, the harvest progressed in a timely fashion thanks to dry, sunny weather.

On yields, Kirsten notes that the blackeye pea crop probably came in lower than the 25 bag estimate that was presented at the Convention in July. This was due to increased lygus pressure.

“In the last couple of years, lygus has been harder to control,” says Kirsten. “I think the bugs have built up resistance to the insecticide growers apply.”

On the large lima bean crop, Kirsten estimates losses of 10% to 15% due to heat stress. He estimates the yield at 21.4 bags per acre, down from the estimate of 23.4 bags presented at the Convention in July.

The baby lima beans, on the other hand, fared better because of the hardier nature of the plant and the denser canopy they build. Consequently, Kirsten believes the yields will end up close to the 24.54 bags reported at the Convention.

Photo: Chope Gill Large Lima Harvest

Photo courtesy of Mark Kirsten with Kirsten Company

With respect to quality, Kirsten comments that this year’s blackeye pea crop has few no. 1 grade beans due to the presence of lygus stings. The crop is not terrible he says, but it is not what buyers have come to expect from California.

Reviewing the production numbers presented at the convention, Kirsten believes the blackeye pea crop is probably 5% to 10% smaller than the 157,966 cwt reported at the time. On baby limas, he believes the crop came close to the 187,640 cwt number presented in July thanks to additional acres that were planted late. But on the large lima bean crop, he estimates production came well below the 260,002 cwt July estimate. He estimates California’s large lima bean crop at between 220,000 and 230,000 cwt.

California Dry Bean Production by Class (as reported in July)

BEAN CLASS ACRES PLANTED

YIELDS (bags per acre)

PRODUCTION (in cwt)

Pinto 12 28.00 336
Pink 6 30.00 180
Cranberry 160 25.00 4,000
Light red kidney 200 20.00 4,000
Large lima 11,113 23.40 260,002
Baby lima 7,647 24.54 187,640
Blackeye 6,297 25.09 157,966
Other 5,412 21.09 114,156
TOTAL 30,847   728,280

Note: Chickpea production has been factored out.

Source: U.S. Dry Bean Council

Washington

Of the six dry bean dealer regions, Washington’s dry bean crop is the smallest. The major commercial classes grown here are pinto, small red and black beans.

Ryan Erickson of Farmer Bean and Seed reports a fairly normal growing season, with a slightly cooler spring and a typically warm summer. Cooler fall conditions set in a little quicker this year and as a result the bean crop matured faster than normal.

“It’s been a fantastic harvest for the first time in many years,” says Erickson. “We finished the first week of November, on time, given we had a nice stretch of weather. Historically, we get less than decent weather at harvest and that can keep us out there later than we’d like.”

In terms of yields, Erickson sees the numbers presented at the convention as on target for black beans (26.2 bags), pinto beans (25.84 bags) and small red beans (25.78 bags). On cranberry beans, however, he estimates a higher yield of 28 to 29 bags per acre (compared to the 27.32 bags per acre reported at the Convention).

“We never know if we are going to get wet weather at harvest, and since we didn’t we picked up a little bit of extra production on the cranberry beans,” he explains.

In terms of quality, Erickson describes this year’s crop as exceptional, with good color across the board.

Turning to production, he describes the crop as average and believes the July numbers reported at the Convention remain accurate for the most part.

Washington Dry Bean Production by Class (as reported in July)

BEAN CLASS ACRES PLANTED

YIELDS (bags per acre)

PRODUCTION (in cwt)
Pinto 1 2,113 25.84 313,060
Pink 335 26.34 8,825
Small red 2,660 25.78 68,581
Small white 798 26.14 20,862
Navy 898 27.27 24,488
Great northern 1,073 25.44 27,293
Black 5,406 26.20 141,664
Cranberry 2,552 27.32 69,726
Light red kidney 1,242 29.49 36,626
Dark red kidney 435 27.31 11,880
Baby lima 291 26.00 7,566
Other 1,070 8.62 9,223
TOTAL 28,873   739,794

Note: Chickpea production has been factored out.

Source: U.S. Dry Bean Council

Market Outlook

Looking at the overall supply situation for 2017/18, it is difficult to get a firm handle on just how much production there was this year. Asked about the 30 million cwt figure, most sources were noncommittal. Wilson says he believes it is in that ballpark given that yields were better than previously anticipated. For his part, Keller offers the following production estimates by bean class:

  • Pinto beans: 13 to 13.5 million cwt
  • Great northern beans: 1.5 to 1.6 million cwt
  • Light red kidney beans: 900,000 cwt

With respect to carryover, back in July the bean dealer associations estimated remaining inventories at 822,396 cwt, but that figure did not include estimates for the North Central Region and Michigan. Wilson reports that North Dakota is estimating a carryover of 2 million cwt. In Michigan, Wisenbaugh describes the carryover as minimal.

In terms of individual bean classes, Thoreson admits that the black bean carryover may be larger than previously anticipated, but he believes most of those inventories have already been sold. Wilson reports that there remains significant small red bean carryover heading into the new crop year. On blackeye peas, Kirsten says that a sizable amount of last year’s crop still remains, comprised mostly of no. 2 and no. 3 grades; but given the disaster in Texas and fewer plantings in California, it appears this carryover will nicely complement this year’s production. The same is true for large lima beans, which enter the new marketing year with a good amount of carryover but less-than-expected production due to reduced yields.

Asked to evaluate the market outlook for 2017/18, sources offered the following rundown by commercial class. On pinto beans, Keller expects to see more movement into Mexico due to reduced production there; in fact, he reports that Mexican buyers are unusually active for this time of year, possibly attracted by the presently low prices. Thoreson agrees, and he reports good, steady movement on black and pinto beans into Mexico at the moment. Yet even with increased exports, Keller sees the U.S. carrying healthy pinto inventories into 2018/19. On great northern beans, Keller also believes the current supply situation will leave the U.S. with an above average carrying heading into 2018/19. On small red beans, Wilson sees the need for aggressive export sales to bring down the carrying heading into the next campaign. On light red kidney beans, Keller says, “We all think this is going to be the sleeper.” Given the size of this year’s crop and practically zero carryover, supplies are going to be fairly tight. Erickson foresees the light red kidney bean crop, as well as the cranberry and small white bean crops, selling out by the end of the year. The same is true for blackeye peas. Although the carryover heading into 2017/18 is higher than normal, Keller is anticipating that production will be half of what it was last year. On cranberry and baby lima beans, Erickson believes the supply may fall short of demand this campaign.

On the major classes in particular—pinto, black and navy beans—the industry hopes to see good movement into foreign markets this campaign.

“We are going to need strong exports to move this crop,” says Bill Thoreson, echoing what many sources told IFT. “With prices to growers at US$ 20 to US$ 21 per cwt, they are not going to be active sellers. I think that’s the case across the board; it definitely is for black and pinto beans. And so it’s going to be a demand driven market.”

“Grower prices are so low they are not selling much,” adds Keller. “In the long run, as we look to restock, it means we’ll have to pay growers better.”

Thoreson specifically mentions Mexico and the Caribbean as markets he hopes will step up.

In Mexico, as previously mentioned, indications are that domestic production will fall short of internal demand. That bodes well for increased exports from the U.S. But at the same time, the rhetoric surrounding ongoing NAFTA re-negotiations have caused some uneasiness on both sides of the Rio Grande. The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development went so far as to issue a press release in defense of NAFTA, calling the trilateral trade agreement “absolutely vital” to the state’s agricultural sector.

“Doing away with NAFTA would be a real train wreck for the ag sector in the U.S.,” says Keller. The hope, he says, is that U.S. negotiators will adopt a “do no harm” approach when it comes to agriculture.

Other markets to watch in 2017/18 include Italy and Costa Rica. Last campaign, Italy’s imports of U.S. dry beans was up 41%.

U.S. Dry Bean Exports, 2011/12 to 2016/17 (in MT)

Source: USDA FAS GATS.

“They are big navy bean users,” says Wisenbaugh. “Consumption there has really increased and I expect demand there to maintain if not climb.”

Costa Rica, meanwhile, increased its imports of U.S. dry beans to nearly 10,000 MT in 2016/17. Typically, Costa Rica takes no more than 1,000 MT on a good year. The major classes it imports are black and small red beans. There are mixed opinions as to whether Costa Rica will maintain last campaign’s level of U.S. dry bean imports. As Keller sees it, the boon in business to Costa Rica was a one-off, the result of poor quality beans arriving from China, Costa Rica’s supplier of choice under a trade agreement. Wisenbaugh, on the other hand, is hopeful that Michigan black beans will see good movement into Costa Rica in 2017/18.

In terms of prices, Thoreson cites the following FOB values out of North Dakota: US$ 727.50 per MT for black beans and US$ 595 to US$ 600 per MT for pinto beans. Keller cites great northern bean prices at US$ 726 to US$ 748 FOB and light red kidney bean prices at US$ 1,034 to US$ 1,056 FOB.

“I think we are at the low point of the market,” says Thoreson.   

Keller agrees: “I think right now U.S. prices are at low tide.”

On California blackeye peas, Kirsten cites prices of approximately US$ 1,210 per MT for no. 1 grade; he sees those prices remaining steady. On baby lima beans, prices have been trending upward and are presently at about US$ 1,386 per MT; he sees them continuing to climb at least until Peru harvests its crop. On large lima beans, he cites prices of about US$ 1,606 per MT for packaging quality and US$ 1,782 per MT FOB for canning quality.  

In Idaho, Wilson cites warehouse prices of US$ 836 per MT FOB for pink beans and US$ 660 per MT FOB for small red beans.

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Dario Bard, IFT Journalist