Its easy to be bullish on dry beans this year. Acres and supply are down and prices are up.
But Mark and Jim Sletten, Hatton, N.D., have always been bullish on beans partly because they are able to consistently produce good dry bean crops.
We figure our dry beans will at least be as good as wheat financially, and they have the potential every year to do a lot better, Mark says.
The Sletten brothers credit their good yield history to several factors. They farm in Grand Forks County, a part of the Red River Valley with a unique mixture of lighter, sandy loam topsoil over a clay base. It is as close to an ideal soil as may be possible for dry beans. The Valleys usually cool summer weather often increases yield potential without the risk of blossom abortion and high disease pressure.
The Slettens grow dry beans in rotation with sugar beets, wheat and soybeans. Sugar beets are the main cash crop. They follow a five-year rotation. Typically it is sugar beets followed by dry beans, followed by wheat, followed by soybeans and followed again by wheat.
The Slettens grow mainly pintos and navies. They prefer early maturing varieties currently Norstar navies and Maverick pintos because they can harvest them before they harvest sugar beets in late September and October. They always buy western-grown certified seed.
Though the Slettens grow sugar beets in 22-inch rows, they plant dry beans in 30-inch rows.
We havent switched to 22-inch rows for dry beans because we have to have separate planters and cultivators to get over all the acres at the same time anyway, Mark explains. He and Jim believe that they have fewer problems with white mold in dry beans in wider rows.
We are always ready to spray fungicide, Mark says. But sometimes we dont need it.
The Slettens start their fertilizer program for pintos and navies by deep banding 110 pounds of 18-46-0 per acre and zinc in the spring, at the same time they apply Sonalan or Treflan.
Deep banding puts fertilizer especially immobile phosphorus in the dry bean root zone where it can be used most effectively. The practice also prevents nitrogen (N) from building up near the soil surface. Thats a waste of money, and also creates N variability in fields. N levels must be uniform for sugar beets.
The Slettens also foliar apply a 10-10-10 fertilizer called Prolific, plus zinc and other micronutrients. They mix this fertilizer in the spray tank when they apply herbicide. They use split rates of Basagran and other post emergence herbicides and make multiple spray passes.
We can see the difference between sprayed and unsprayed parts of fields, Mark says. Treated beans are greener, more lush, have more blossoms and are all-around healthier.
The heavier canopy may increase the condition favorable for white mold, but the extra fertilizer hasnt hurt bean yields.
We are always ready to spray for white mold, Mark notes.
The Slettens use a Pickett One-Step to cut and windrow both pintos and navies. They use axial flow combines to harvest navies and a Lilliston bean combine to harvest pintos. The axial flow combines result in the best quality in navies while the Lilliston does a superior job on the pintos. The Lilliston leaves too many unthreshed pods in the navies, Jim says.
The Slettens dont take sole credit for their success with dry beans. Tama, who is married to Mark, handles the farms books and payroll; does fieldwork and runs for parts. Dave Leen works for the Slettens full-time and handles many field operations, including bean spraying. The Slettens also employ Jims oldest son during the summer. A college student, retired farmers and friends help out during the growing season. Friends and off-duty soldiers from the nearby Grand Forks Air Force Base also work on the farm during busy bean and sugar beet harvest.
There is no single reason why we have good luck with dry beans, Mark says. Its a combination of things.