Beans sprout big role in region's economy
January 24, 2007
If a product includes beans, theres a good chance they came from North Dakota or western Minnesota.
If you buy five cans of beans, probably two of them are coming from this area, said Lynne Bigwood, home economist for the Northarvest Bean Growers Association, which represents dry bean growers in the two states.
North Dakota ranks first nationally in dry beans, with production valued at $136 million, or about 26% of the U.S. total, according to the Agriculture Department. Minnesota ranks fifth, with production valued at about $49 million, or roughly 9% of the national total.
This is really a great area for dry beans. Im not sure the general public realizes that, said Jim Vrolyk, who manages the Thompson bean plant in East Grand Forks. The plant cleans about 25,000 pounds of dry beans each hour - enough for thousands of cans of baked beans.
Dry beans include varieties such as pinto, navy, lima and black beans, but not green beans, string beans or soybeans.
The Red River Valleys soil and rainfall has made it well-suited to dry bean production, said Duane Berglund, a North Dakota State University Extension Service agronomist. He said dry beans have fit nicely into many valley farmers rotation - the farming term for annually rotating crops in a field to reduce crop disease.
It is unlikely that North Dakota and western Minnesota will give up their leading role in dry bean production anytime soon, said Randy Duckworth, executive director of the U.S. Dry Bean Council. Some farmers in Iowa and a few other states are experimenting with dry beans for the first time, but the amounts involved are insignificant, he said.
Americans on average consumed 7.4 pounds of beans in 2002 - about 14% more than two decades earlier, according to the Agriculture Department. One reason cited is the fast-growing Hispanic population.
Dry beans health benefits also help explain their growing popularity, said Mark Dombeck, a Perham farmer and chairman of the Minnesota Dry Bean Research and Promotion Council. Federal Agriculture Department food guidelines introduced last year emphasize eating beans regularly, he said.
The Associated Press distributed this article nationwide on Northarvest-grown beans last fall.