Russell Doane, President, Chippewa Valley Bean and Doane Farm Ltd
August 29, 2007
Nearly 40 years ago, Russell Doane began transitioning one of Wisconsins oldest family farms (started in 1858 near Downsville) from a dairy focus to dark red kidney beans. The operation today processes and handles about 30% of the total dark red kidney beans produced in the United States.
We began center pivot irrigation here in 67. It became evident to me that we needed to find a crop that we could do well, without competing with the very good corn and soybean farmers in the Cornbelt.
In the fall of 68 I met a Mennonite fellow by the name of Russell Wilson. He moved from Michigan to Barron, Wis. Id seen an article written about him talking about dry edible beans. So I got a hold of him one day and that was the first time I had ever seen dry edible beans grown. It looked like something that we could have a bit of a leg up here on these irrigated sands, because edibles really dont like to have their feet wet.
We started with 500 acres of kidneys in 1969 and a few navies. It seemed to me we could successfully grow a dark red kidney here and compete very well. We also grew machine harvested cucumbers from 71 to 76. By the time 1976 rolled around I felt we needed to make a decision whether to go with cucumbers or beans. There was too much overlap, the cucumbers needed attention when bean harvest started. I liked the idea of a crop that was dry, that we could store dry and market it throughout the year and longer if necessary. Thats when we left the cucumber business and went with beans.
Im one of these old farmers I like land. In my lifetime, with center pivot irrigation, the land in this area that has become more valuable for farming is the drier sands. We have a larger window of fieldwork and we can do it with less machinery. We can have an inch of rain in the morning and be out cultivating the next morning.
A major factor for increased consumption of dark red kidneys was the salad bar. The salad bar concept started catching on right about when we got into the business, in 1969. Consumption has about tripled since then.
Quality, quality, quality. Since the best market for the dark red kidney is the salad bar market, every bean in that can needs to have no mechanical damage to it, and much of that has to do with the harvesting and handling of the bean.
We have a roster of very good growers we contract with. Sometimes there are producers, you learn quickly who they are, that you dont continue to work with. But by and large most are very ethical, very high caliber.
Theres a premium on timeliness. We have a relatively narrow window of optimum planting and we also have the moment that bean is ready to be harvested. I use the line that kidney beans arent like Irish whiskey, they dont get better with age. Thats exactly true. The first time that kidney bean is ready to harvest is the best time to harvest.
I feel so fortunate to be involved with the R&D side of our business at this stage of my life. As a company weve invested a lot in variety research and development. Thats because with dark red kidneys, we have a lot of eggs in one basket. But as one old timer once told me, theres nothing wrong with putting your eggs in one basket, you just gotta keep a close eye on the basket.