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Young Farmer Banks on Beans
January 15, 2008

Young Farmer Banks on Beans

Jason Mewes is a young man who looks as if he has a lot of potential in agriculture.

And the Colgate, N.D., farmer sees a lot of potential in dry beans.

"Corn and soybean prices are high, but dry beans have been keeping up, says Mewes. We have the right soil and the right weather for dry beans. When it all comes together right, we can get 2,500-3,000 pound [per acre] yields.

Jason is one of the newest members of North Dakota Dry Bean Council. He was elected in March and serves on the councils research and food aid committees. Though he is serving his first term on the North Dakota Dry Bean Council, Jason is no stranger to commodity groups. He also serves on the North Dakota Soybean Councils research committee.

Jason and his wife, Jodi, farm with his parents Raymond and Barbara; and uncles, Ralph and Randy, and their families. Jason also operates a farm in partnership with his brother, John, a research scientist at Meridian Environmental Technologies,
Grand Forks, N.D.

At 28, Jason is the youngest person in the family corporation and the only one of his parents siblings who is currently interested in farming full time. They raise corn, soybeans and dry beans  pintos, navies and blacks. They plant about half their farm to corn, a quarter to soybeans and a quarter to dry beans every year.

An NDSU graduate, Mewes has a degree in agricultural economics and is getting a heavy dose of on-the-job training on the family farm. I am trying to learn everybodys jobs, he says.

Excited about ag, Jason Mewes, a new member of he North Dakota DryBean Council, says he sees a lot potential for his family's farm in the future.He is the youngest member in a diversified dry bean, corn and soybean operation. Keeping dry beans competitive with corn, soybeans and other crops is important, Mewes
says.  It will help insure that they have the crop rotation options in the future to remain diversified and manage risk.

Cutting labor and input

Despite current high grain prices, Jason says hes fairly nervous about whats ahead for farmers.

High commodity prices are great, he says, but costs have skyrocketed too. What happens when prices come down? Will costs stay up? he asks.

His parents, uncles and others who farmed during the boom years of the 1970s, and survived the downturn in the1980s, warn him that grain prices likely wont stay up and input costs wont come down as fast, or perhaps not at all.

As a result, Jason is being cautious about buying land and other major purchases.
A lot of people got in financial trouble in the 1980s because they paid too much for land or got overextended. I dont want that to happen to me in a few years if things change, he says.

Cutting costs

Rather than trying to aggressively expand the operation now, Jason and his family are focusing on finding ways to reduce labor and input costs without reducing yields.

They will try strip tilling corn for the first time next season and, if it works, they may try the new tillage system on dry beans, too. Strip tillage saves two trips across the field over the year and makes it possible to reduce fuel, labor and fertilizer costs. Fertilizer rates can be reduced because the nutrients are placed directly in the future root zone.

This fall, they tried straight combining all their dry beans with a flex head rather than cutting and windrowing the vines. Many new varieties have a more upright structure and can be straight combined, which saves a pass across the field.

The Mewes recently bought a real time kinetic global positioning system (RTK-GPS) and installed auto steering on three of their tractors. RTK gives them sub-inch, pass-to-pass guidance. They used the system for tillage, fertilizing, planting, cultivating dry beans and spraying. It reduced overlap when doing tillage, spraying pesticides or applying fertilizer. It eliminated variability in guess row spacing, which led to reduced damage to dry beans when cultivating and lower field losses when combining corn.

The big advantage RTK gave us this year was being able to plant at night, Jason says.

They ran 24 hours a day for about a week during planting. Getting corn planted early is one of the keys to maximizing yield potential. Planting delays can also hurt dry bean and soybean yield potential.

Dovetails with research

Jasons interest in reducing costs and improving yields dovetails well with his role on the North Dakota Dry Bean Council research committee. He wants to see continued investment in the NDSU dry bean breeding program. Improved varieties adapted to North Dakota and Minnesota can raise yields and make things like straight combining possible. Weed, disease and insect control are areas where significant gains could be made.

I see lots of potential for dry beans, Jason says. Its important to keep trying to increase yield potential and reduce costs.

Like father, like son, Jason and his father, Raymond, enjoy a close relationship farming.


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