U.S. kidney bean farmer Jim Knopik shares some insight on the difficulties and joys of farming dry beans.

By Sheila McCoy

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Kidney beans are tough to grow. That is most likely why not too many farmers choose to raise the bean, said Jim Knopik of Little Falls, Minnesota in the United States.

Another reason may be the fact that the type of equipment that is used to cut kidney beans cannot really be used for any other type of farm work. In addition, the equipment that is used is made in Brazil and sold by a dealership in Idaho.

However, Jim and his wife, Debbie, have raised kidney beans for many years. What inspired Jim to become a kidney bean grower was working for a farmer in 1977 who raised it along with navy and pinto beans.

“It got me interested in that. There was never really any money in corn or soybeans back in those days. But you could kind of survive on growing edible beans,” Jim said.

In a sense, kidney beans have their own market. There are also no government programs for growing kidney beans.

Kidney beans come in several colors depending on the original seed — white, light red and dark red.

For the last few years, the Knopiks have grown white kidney beans. But that will change this year as the field where the beans are rotated to has a darker soil.

Video: Kidney bean time lapse with soil cross section, showing how the roots and upper part of the plant grows. The amazing video was captured by Lithuanian Mindaugas Kriksciukas, creator of Youtube Channel GPhase, in a painstaking process that took a total of four attempts. The footage was shot over 25 days, with Mr Kriksciukas, setting his camera to shoot an image of the bean’s progress every nine minutes and 36 seconds.

White beans grow better in a lighter sandy soil. But because of the risk of the beans becoming dirt stained by the darker soil, it is a risk the family isn’t willing to take. Instead, they will grow light red kidney beans.

How much a kidney bean is stained can make a huge difference. Stained beans have a tendency to bring in less money. While about five percent of stained beans may be allowed, any amount above can cause the entire load to be rejected.

Even though rejected beans can be fed to cattle, too much can cause diarrhea in the animals.

“You have to watch how much you feed them. You can’t feed them too much,” Jim said.

Kidney beans are checked by some being soaked in water. When the beans swell, it will show if the skin is cracked or not, Jim said.

It’s best to cut kidney beans at night when dew has formed on the pods. For the Knopiks, it usually means hitting the machinery at about 2 a.m. until 10 a.m.

“The dew makes the shells tougher and less dry. It makes it harder for the shells to break open,” Debbie said.

The kidney bean equipment has sharp knives that run underground and cut the plant. It’s also set up so that two rows of plants are combined. The combined plants are pushed over to the side in one row.

Once the cutting for that night is done, the cut kidney plants are picked up with a combine that afternoon. If all goes well, it takes about five days to complete 200 acres of kidney beans.

Jim Knopik of Little Falls, Minnesota plants a variety of crops every year, but his favorite to grow is kidney beans. Credit: photo courtesy of Sheila McCoy

Knopik also crop farms corn, soybeans, rye and hay. All in all, they farm 1,400 acres.

“That’s about what it takes to support the equipment,” Jim said.

Part of the property is rented out to another farmer who plants potatoes. The crops, including the potatoes, are rotated each year. It’s a way to prevent disease and pathogen buildup in a field.

“The corn cleans the soil,” Jim said.

The Knopiks irrigate their fields. However, kidney beans require very little water. But irrigating doesn’t come without its own challenges. For the last years, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has said that irrigation of farm fields may affect trout streams and cause trout to not reproduce.

Other regulations surrounding the crops can be challenging, as well.

“I can deal with the wind, the rain, the blizzards, the snow and the cold. That is a walk in the park compared to dealing with the government,” he said.

The farm is also home to 24 black Angus cows. The calves are raised and then sold as feeder cattle in the fall.

When the Knopiks aren’t farming, they enjoy spending time with their children Stacy, Tracy, Jessica and Robert. They also have nine grandchildren, which are a delight. They also enjoy going fishing for sunfish.

Article contributed by Sheila McCoy, staff writer with the Morrison County Record
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