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More Than Lucky
March 15, 2002


To produce a profitable dark red kidney bean crop, Randy Carow starts with certified seed.

Randy Carow won 400 pounds of dry bean seed at the 3rd annual Northarvest Bean Growers Association Bean Day in 1978. It helped him decide to get into the dry bean business.

And you might say that Carow has been lucky with beans  and many other endeavors  ever since.

The good Lord has shined on us, says the Perham, Minn., farmer.

But like most people, Carow probably makes his own luck with hard work, perseverance and more than a little ingenuity. It certainly seems to be the case with dry beans.

Carow grows 200-300 acres of kidney beans on his 1,300-acre farm in north central Minnesota. All of his cropland is irrigated. He also grows corn and soybeans and rents land out for potato production.

Carow used to grow just corn and dark red kidney beans. He planted up to 500 acres of kidneys.  In the past several years, he has added soybeans and potatoes to the rotation to diversify his income and to reduce root rot pressure on dry beans. Dry beans usually follow potatoes in the rotation.

Wet weather  and the accompanying root rots  has been Carows main dry bean production problem in recent years. Subsoiling and using a new seed treatment has helped him reduce losses.

Subsoiling improves internal soil drainage. Carow runs two types of subsoilers  a disc ripper (it looks like a tandem disc with shanks set on 30 inch spaces between the discs) and a coulter ripper (it has alternating coulters and shanks). He subsoils a field every other year in the fall, usually following corn and before kidney beans. The disc ripper does the best job in corn. The discs dig the soil, chop the stalks and bury the residue while the shanks shatter the hardpan. Carow runs the discs 8-12 inches deep and puts the shanks down approximately 15 inches deep. He pulls the implement with a 300-horsepower tractor.

The coulter ripper does a better job on soybean stubble than the disk ripper, which leaves the soil black. The coulters slice up the longer pieces of residue while the shanks shatter the soil. But the coulters dont bury the residue. They leave the residue on the surface where it can protect the soil from wind erosion.

I traded the plow for the rippers and have had no regrets, Carow says.

Carow buys kidney bean seed treated with a Kodiak to help control root rot. He also adds an another insecticide in the furrow at planting.

I think insects increase root rot. They create more places for disease to enter the root.

Carow uses cow manure from a nearby dairy to fertilize dry beans. Each fall and spring he spreads manure on 170 to 250 acres.

I like it better than commercial fertilizer, Carow says.

The manure adds organic matter to the soil; and bacteria, worms and beneficial insects seem to thrive in the fields where manure is applied.

Carow doesnt have to pay for the manure, which typically contains 10 pounds of nitrogen, 12 pounds of P and 15 pounds of potassium per 1,000 gallons. Instead, he pays for hauling and application, which has been running about $50 per acre.

Changing the Lilliston bean combine drive shaft from variable speed to fixed speed was one of the modifications Randy Carow made to improve quality.

Whiskers on the guidance system (left) sense the position of the bean row and send a signal to the hydraulic cylilnder (right) to move the hitch to the left or right.

Carow uses a 12-row pull-type planter, a 12-row rear-mount cultivator and a 12-row rear-mount cutter on dry beans. The bigger equipment is larger than what you will find on many north central Minnesota farms. But getting fieldwork done when the weather is right is key to achieving high yields and high quality dry beans, he says.

The 12-row rear-mount implements can be difficult to operate at maximum speed in dry beans, though. Carow relies on a whisker guidance system to keep the cultivator and cutter on the row. The guidance system is especially useful on the bean cutter. It eliminates mistakes that leave uncut dry bean plants in the field, reduce quality and create harvesting problems. It also reduces cutting time.

We used to have to get up a 3 a.m. to cut beans, says Carow, who employs two people full-time during the growing season. Now we can start at daybreak and have enough cut for the combines in 2-3 hours.

Like most kidney bean growers, Carow takes extra care at harvest to minimize seed coat damage. He uses Lilliston bean combines that he modified to fit his conditions. The modifications involved changing the concave drive shaft from variable speed to fixed speed, and changing the first teeth on the cylinder separator from spring loaded to fixed.

The advantage of a fixed speed drive is that the cylinder does not increase under load. I dont want the cylinder speed to increase, he says, because the higher the cylinder speed, the higher the risk of seed coat damage.

When the cylinder speeds up under load, the combine is doing the exact opposite of what I want.

Carow prefers fixed teeth on the first cylinder separator because spring loaded teeth bend back under load. Unthreshed beans have to go through another row of teeth to be separated from the pod.

I want the combine set so that all of the beans are threshed only once, he says.

Such attention to detail has paid dividends for Carow, who has a reputation for delivering high quality product.

Some of the business lessons Carow learned while farming have carried over into the other enterprises that he and his wife, LuAnn, operate. They also custom farm; develop land for housing; and sell property insurance, casualty insurance and real estate.

The combination of ventures fit Carow well.

I enjoy people and I like to keep busy, he says.

No doubt, his good luck will continue.


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