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Striving for Better Beans
October 25, 2002

Mike Beelner aims to produce high yielding, high-quality dark red kidneys.

The Hubbard Prairie is just about the best place in the world to grow kidney beans. It is a patch of sandy land, only about six miles square, just southeast of Park Rapids, Minn.

Hemmed in on four sides by tall pines and clear blue lakes, the Hubbard Prairie is capable of producing dry beans that yield in excess of 3,000 pounds per acre.

Of course it takes farmers like Mike Beelner to make it happen.

Beelner, currently a member of the Minnesota Dry Bean Research and Promotion Council, grew up growing dry beans. His father moved his family to the Hubbard Prairie in 1968.

They started growing navy beans in 1974. Since then, they have grown several of the classes of dry beans adapted to the Northarvest area and now focus on growing dark red kidney beans.

Kidneybeans apparently love three things about the Hubbard Prairie  the light, fertile soil; the warm days and cool nights and the millions of gallons of water that lie in an aquifer beneath their roots.

Mike and his dad -- and Mikes brother-in-law Dennis Vaske -- formed a partnership in 1997 and installed their first center pivot irrigators the same year. They now run 21 pivots.

Mike and Dennis (Mikes dad retired in 1987) grow irrigated kidney beans in rotation with corn and potatoes. They grow pink beans on some of the pivot corners and fields that are too small to irrigate. R.D. Offutt Farms grows the potatoes in the rotation. Mike and Dennis handle the corn and dry beans.

Though Mike has 30 years of bean growing experience, he is still learning how to coax maximum profit and quality from dark red kidneys.

Root rot management

Root rot remains one of their biggest problems. In bad years, the disease can cause significant losses. They are trying a combination of things to minimize root rot, including:

  • Inoculating seed with HiStick, a biological product.
  • Treating seed with the fungicide Kodiak.
  • Increasing the rotation from two years to three years.
  • Delaying planting until the last week in May.

"Something is working," Mike says, but he is not sure which product or practice is making the difference. The weather immediately after planting perhaps plays the biggest role.

(Above) A sample from a soil probe indicates that the field still contains moisture and does not need irrigation; (left) no sign of root rot in this healthy plant.  Root rot is one of the main threats to yield.

Reduced N rates working

Nitrogen (N) management is another area Mike and Dennis are focusing on. They are trying to provide the crop with the N it needs for high, profitable yields while simultaneously protecting the environment. If they apply too much N, it may leach through the sandy soil during heavy rains or long periods of wet weather. The fertilizer can end up in the areas lakes.

Mike and Dennis have reduced the amount of N they want to be available to the plants from 120 pounds per acre to 80 pounds per acre. They apply turkey manure to the previous years corn crop, and figure out how much N will be available for the dry bean crop. They then split apply commercial N three or four times per year to bring total N available to the plant to approximately 80 pound per acre

They also inoculate the seed to help the dry bean plant grow root nodules that will fix N from the air.

Split applications (20 pounds at planting in a 2 x 2 place and the remainder broadcast before each cultivation or applied through the irrigation pivot) have allowed Mike and Dennis to cut N rates without affect yields.

"We may be able to reduce rates more. Well try some 60 pounds on some fields next year," Mike says.

White mold control

White mold is a constant threat, especially to their irrigated dry beans. To reduce the chances that an infection will form in his fields, Mike and Dennis plant beans in 36-inch wide rather than 30-inch wide rows. He believes the additional space permits more air movement down the rows to dry the plants. They schedules irrigation to apply more water at one time, but less frequently.

"It gives the canopy a chance to dry out," he says.

They also apply Benlate and Topsin fungicide when conditions favor disease development.

Weed, insect spraying

Nightshade, ragweed weed and lambsquarters are Mikes and Dennis major weed problems. But most fields are virtually weed-free. He applies Prowl and Raptor and cultivates twice.

The past several years, they also have sprayed beans for alfalfa leafhoppers. The insects pose their biggest threat when kidney beans are small.

Bob Bean combines

Mike and Dennis knife and windrow beans in separate operations. They harvest them with two Bobs Bean Combines. They monitor skin checks closely during harvest by periodically soaking seed samples in hot water from a thermos they keep in the truck. The extra effort helps them keep skin checks at a minimum.

Research focus on dry beans and corn

Mike is a big believer in research. He serves on the Northarvest Bean Growers Association research committee and he and Dennis have made land on their farm available for NDSU root rot, dry bean breeding , and disease screening research; and to Pioneer HiBred International for corn breeding research and yield trials. Mike is a Pioneer seed dealer.

Corn is an good rotation crop with kidneys. Mike and Dennis have a 10-year corn yield average of 150 bushels per acre. They grow 80-85 day maturity corn, and seed at a rate of 33,000 kernels per acre.

"We have been growing dry beans for 30 years," Mike says, "But there is always something more to learn."


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