“We have a lot to be positive about,” said Mitch Coulter, executive director of the Fargo, ND-based Northarvest Bean Growers Association, a cooperative of dry bean growers in North Dakota and Minnesota.
The list includes growing domestic demand; growing demand from foreign customers, particularly Mexico; and new research efforts to make dry beans more efficient to grow and more appealing to consumers.
The federal government projects that US farmers will plant 1.54 million acres of dry beans this year, up from 1.74 million acres planted in 2020. But keep that estimate in perspective. The 2021 projection is still significantly higher than the 1.29 million acres planted nationally in 2019. Unattractive prices for competing crops and dry bean supply depleted after difficult harvest season of 2019 increased planted acreage in 2020, according to Coulter and others.
Strong competition from attractive prices for soybeans and other oilseeds is playing against dry bean acreage in the United States this year, although dry bean prices have also risen, Coulter said.
The region is already locked in drought, which does not bode well for dry beans and other crops. “As with other crops, we will need rain this spring to push our harvest forward,” he said.
Important Area Cultivation
Although dry beans don’t get as much attention as soybeans, corn, and wheat, dry beans, sometimes called edible beans, are an important crop in much of the Upper Midwest. North Dakota is the national leader in dry bean production, accounting for about half of the crops planted in the United States, Minnesota is also a top producer.
There are many types of dried beans, including pinto, navy, and black. Some are sold on the open market, others are grown under contract. North Dakota grows a number of types of dry beans, with pinto, black, and especially white beans being the most prominent. Minnesota is a leading producer of kidney beans, with white and black beans also prominent in the state.
Mexico is the main importer of American dried beans, with black beans being particularly popular with Mexican consumers. As a result, U.S. black bean exports to Mexico — and black bean acres in the Upper Midwest — have increased.
This year, dry bean planted acreage in North Dakota and Minnesota is expected to fall by 45,000 acres, with planted acreage in Michigan, another major producer, falling by about 50,000 acres, according to the Planting Report. National Agricultural Statistics Service March 31 forecasts. , a branch of the United States Department of Agriculture.
Farmers in Montana and South Dakota also grow dry beans, but the March 31 report did not include acreage estimates for those two states.
In the past, many Americans ate dried beans on a regular basis. Annual US consumption of dried beans peaked in the early 1940s at 9.6 pounds per person before beginning a long decline. The reasons for this are not entirely clear, although the decline in home food consumption has apparently played a significant role, as has the growing demand for convenient and easy-to-prepare foods.
But after hitting a low of 5.5 pounds per person in the early 1970s, annual consumption has rebounded steadily and currently stands at around 7.5 pounds per person. Dried beans are considered both affordable and nutritious, and they are increasingly popular with consumers looking to include more plant-based protein in their diet.
Coulter said his industry is optimistic the trend will continue, pointing to increased interest from “flexitarians”, among others. The word, a combination of flexible and vegetarian, refers to people who want to eat more plants and less meat.
By all accounts, the COVID-19 pandemic has led Americans in general to eat at home more often. That boosted sales of dried beans, which are typically eaten at home, Coulter said.
His industry, however, discovered that some dry bean buyers/consumers did not know how best to prepare dry beans.
“So we’re going to do more educational efforts to help with that,” he said.