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Capitalizing of bean opportunities
June 25, 2003

Capitalizing on bean opportunities
North Dakota Farm Bureau recoginzes Brian and Susanne Engstrom for achievements


Brian Operating a farm, seed plant, and bean processing company keeps Engstrom (left) busy. Bagged bean seed (top right) awaits shipment.

A dry bean grower won the North Dakota Farm Bureau's Achievement Award this year. Brian and Susanne Engstrom, Leeds, N.D., received the organization's award for their accomplishments in agriculture and service to their community by young members.

The Engstroms - who farm in partnership with Brian's parents, James and Judy, started growing dry beans only about seven years ago. But today, they don't just grow dry beans. They process them too. They built a seed conditioning and dry bean processing plant in 1999.
"Dry beans have been a great crop for us and our neighbors," Brian says.

Durum had been king on the Engstroms' 5th generation grain and livestock farm. In the 1980s, the Engstroms grew mostly durum wheat, ran a few beef cattle and farrowed a small number of pigs. But wet weather battered the durum in the 1990s, making it nearly impossible for many farmers to produce a profitable crop. The Engstroms tried many alternatives - canola, sunflower, soybeans, and corn - to name a few. Pintos turned out to be one of the new crops particularly well suited to their farm.

One reason dry beans do well is that many of the soils in the Leeds area northwest of Devils Lake are clay loams, much like those in the Red River Valley. But unlike the Valley, the land has some roll to it.

The topography turned out to be an advantage given the amount of precipitation that continues to fall throughout the region. Heavy rain may drown out low areas, but hilltops and sidehills drain quickly. Beans that donÕt drown out do extremely well.

"We have to plan on losing 20% of our acres," Brian says.

Managing crop residue in wet weather is a challenge for the Engstroms. Because the growing season is short, they have narrow windows in the fall to prepare fields properly and in the spring to plant.

This spring, they were looking at no-till drills to plant through residue and new tillage tools to fluff up the top layer of soil to help it dry out.

Weed control in wet conditions also can be difficult. The Engstroms use Prowl, and apply Pursuit and Reflex postemergence.

"We don't have nightshade here yet, but we have seen it in soybean seed. That's why we use a little Pursuit on some fields. We're trying to keep the nightshade out," he says.

Processing plant
When the Engstroms started growing pintos, it didn't take them long to realize that they had an opportunity to do more than just produce the crop. Many of their neighbors were trying dry beans, too, and everyone had to travel at least 50 miles to get seed and deliver product in the fall.

The Engstroms had operated a certified wheat seed business for years. When they built a portable cleaner to remove sclerotia from confection sunflower, they added equipment to the cleaner so they could condition dry bean seed, too.

"We figured we would do our own seed and some for the neighbors," Brian says.

They built a permanent cleaner in 1999 and opened Engstrom Bean and Seed to condition certified seed and to process dry beans for sale worldwide. They also became Bob Bean Combine dealers after purchasing one.

"We didn't really plan to be involved in so many things in the bean industry," Brian says. "One thing just led to another."

What's ahead
The Engstroms see more dry beans in their future. Like a few other farmers in the Leeds area, they are trying their hand at kidney beans. Two years ago, they grew 40 acres of kidneys just to see what the crop was like. Last year, they had a larger number of acres, but lost them all to hail. They planted kidneys again this year.

"I try to look for opportunities that have been overlooked," Brian says, "and capitalize on them."

Brian Engstrom (left) carries a grain-vac tube.

(Above) Brian with his father James.


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