December 20, 2002
Mike Beltz will talk dry beans at the drop of a hat.
With a wry smile and a twinkle in his eye, Beltz has been know to greet folks at the local bean plant with: "How you bean?"
"I have bean crazy," he says, grinning at his play on words, "and I still am."
Beltz, Hillsboro, N.D., has been growing dry beans since the early 1990s. Over the years through good times and bad dry beans have been his best cash crop. Wet weather for the past several years made it tough to set any records, though.
Beltz lost 50% of his dry bean acres this year after 5-10 inches of rain fell in the watershed. As the water drained to the Red River it flooded large areas.
But the losses didnt deal Beltz a crippling financial blow. He covers dry beans and his other crops with multi-peril and hail insurance at the 75% level. His long-term yields remain high enough so that insurance provides a good hedge against disaster.
Beltz grows pinto, navy and black turtle beans in rotation with corn, soybeans and sunflower. Beltzs key to keeping dry beans profitable is producing the highest quality and highest yield possible.
In an attempt to reach that goal every year, Beltz follows several management practices, including:
Buying high quality certified seed. Western or North Dakota grown have worked well for him
Selecting fields best suited for dry beans. He generally puts dry beans on the lighter, better-drained soil. "Wet weather is actually a little better for the crop on my soils than dry weather," he says.
Maintaining the planter so that the seeding rate and spacing are on target. In areas where the plant spacing is erratic or where stands are thin, dry bean plants mature more slowly.
Planting early. Beltz likes to begin around May 15, or whenever his apple trees begin blossoming. The growing degree day accumulation required for apple trees to blossom on his farm happens to be similar to whats necessary to produce the soil temperatures needed to germinate bean seed. "It my low-tech, high-tech approach to deciding when to begin planting," he says.
Making beans a priority. "If I have two things to do in the field, and one of them involves dry beans, Ill take care of the dry beans first," he says.
Being patient at harvest. It doesnt pay to rush dry bean harvest early in the season.
Keeping on top of the market. Beltz doesnt claim to be the shrewdest marketer. "The fact I held onto 2001 navy into August 2002 proves I dont have any inside information," he says. But Beltz tries to stay on top of the trends when deciding which class to grow and how many acres to plant. Beltz says he may cut back on navies next year because the market now dominated with long-term grower contracts doesnt respond to supply and demand signals as readily as other bean classes.
Participating in the industry. Two years ago, farmers elected Beltz to the North Dakota Dry Bean Council. He serves on several committees, including research.
Whats hes learned about the industry, especially whats coming in the dry bean breeding program, makes him optimistic about the future.
"We have some good varieties in the pipeline that are going to make growers happy," he says. "I can hardly wait for them myself."