Touring the Dominican Republic
March 30, 2009
North Dakota Dry Bean Council chairman, Jim Sletten and Northarvest Bean Growers executive director Tim Courneya toured dry bean fields in the Dominican Republic in February 2009. The purpose of the trip was to meet the importers/exporters of the country and get a better understanding of their dry bean production process.
Jim Sletten in a warehouse full of bagged beans.
The Dominican Republic currently grows cranberries, big reds and some blacks. They are estimating domestic production to be about 600,000 cwt this year, while annually they consume about 1 to 1.2 million cwt. Imports will be of white beans (even some from China) but mainly pinto from the United States. Canada has some influence in the market as well.
During their three-day visit, the Northarvest Delegation met with six large importers, U.S. Embassy representative Jamie Rothschild, and the Price Stabilization Institute (INESPRE), whom are also interested in importing beans. They toured bean fields, processing and storage facilities. They visited different grower’s farms and saw the whole process, from harvesting, to packing, to the re-packing into supermarket varieties. Sletten noted that manual labor is huge in the Dominican Republic. At harvest, the workers would pull the bean plants, stack the roots pointing them upwards so the plant would dry out and put them on a tarp to keep the beans dirt free. The laborers worked on a small machine, (about the size of a chair recliner), which did the thrashing. They would then pack the plants in small stacks to facilitate drying. The beans were transported to a warehouse where the bags were divided among the 25 or so workers who sat on the floor each with a pile of beans in front of them, picking out the undesirable beans, dirt, pebbles, etc. The harvest process and bagging will conclude with a bean that is picture perfect for the consumer.
“This is one of the reasons it is difficult for the U.S. to compete quality-wise, because every bean there is hand picked,” says Sletten. “Because of the way the beans are handled, their quality is exceptional.”
Workers place plants on the tarp. The beans have to be kept dirt free before thrashing.
Sletten noticed in the region they grow a very high quality of bean while maintaining low production because they don’t use the technology we use, with respect to fertilization, weed control and yields. Sletten didn’t know which variety they used, but he did notice there were only two to three beans in each pod. “Lack of funds is a factor in their lack of technology, which is a major drawback,” he says.
The other main issue even beyond the quality issue with the Dominican Republic is credit.
There are trust issues between buyers and sellers and so credit is very hard to come by these days. No one wants to stick their neck out and with the world economies in trouble, this situation won’t get better any time soon.
Beans are spread out and hand picked clean before getting ready to sell.