Chippewa Valley Bean
August 29, 2007
The well manicured wooden sign that stands at the crook of the road leading into the Doane farm points to the two things this operation is most proud of its family heritage, and their bean business.
Next year, Doane Ltd will celebrate 150 years in business it was established in the rolling hills near Downsville, Wis. (about 100 mi east of St. Paul) in 1858. Seven generations of Doanes have been operating this farm.
For many years, the family operation was typical of many in Wisconsin, producing alfalfa, corn, and a 150 cow dairy. However, Russell Doane did something in 1969 that would change the Doane farm forever: he grew a field of edible beans. He experimented with growing a few different classes for several years, then settled in with light red and dark red kidneys.
It wasnt long before the Doanes got involved with processing the beans they produced. We quickly saw the need to clean and market our beans to canning companies throughout the United States, says Cindy Brown, Russells daughter. So in 1973, Chippewa Valley Bean (CVB) began as a processing and marketing arm for the Doane farm.
Today, the dairy cows are long gone (since 1976, actually) and CVBs bean business extends well beyond the four-county Chippewa Valley area in Wisconsin it was originally named after. CVB continues to grow its own kidneys under irrigation, about 3,500 acres, in rotation with either corn or potatoes, in a land trading arrangement with the R.D. Offutt Company. And CVB today processes and markets about 30% of the total dark red kidney beans produced in the United States.
Chippewa Valley Beans on-farm processing facility can store and process about 400,000 cwt per year, customizing product per customer specifications. This capacity allows CVB to ship a steady, dependable year round supply that also allows for prompt shipment on short notice. CVB also buys beans from growers in the four state region; contracting from a large geographic area helps ensure supply. CVB currently sells about 60% of its beans within the U.S. and exports the balance.
CVB has its own plant breeding program, which it started in 1981. The initial goal was to develop a kidney variety with better genetic resistance to root rot. The effort accomplished its goal, and the program continues to develop kidney varieties today, with an emphasis on improved genetic resistance to white mold and various blights.
The breeding effort helps ensure kidney varieties with the agronomic and processing characteristics that CVB prefers. CVB sells seed from the kidney varieties it develops to other kidney growers, which not only helps ensure supply (those who grow CVB kidney varieties also contract their production with the company) but in a sense, a consistent, identity-preserved supply. CVB knows what kind of kidneys to expect coming from other producers under contract, since CVB developed the varieties theyre growing.
To complete the vertical integration on both ends of the business, CVB offers gourmet soup mixes packaged under the Good Earth Café brand. There are currently two products, Peppered Pinto and Chippewa Chili. Not bad for a small family business in West Central Wisconsin, says the recipe tag in the background information about CVB that comes with the product.
Chippewa Valley Bean variety research plots on the Doane farm.
The Doanes who pioneered this farm site 150 years ago near a frog pond as a water source would be surprised at the enterprise it has become today, and pleased that it remains a family-owned business. Each of the family members involved with the business have their roles. Russell still heads up the company as president. Cindy does the marketing, sister Ruth Anne (Hofland) manages quality control and accounting, and brother Brian is involved on the farm end. Business partner Bob Wachsmuth plays a key role with the farm and production contracts.
We all have our general areas of responsibility that fit our personalities and likes, says Cindy. We dont overstep our areas yet all of us have a say and are totally informed about whats going on. As a farm and business, were all very much involved, and still friends at the end of the day.
Tracy Sayler, with information provided in part through Beans for Health Alliance, now a part of the U.S. Dry Bean Council