All beans for the Backstroms
August 12, 2004
Paul, Donna and Kim Backstrom, of Maddock, N.D., grow nothing but dry beans -- approximately 1,250 acres most years -- and they still have a good crop rotation.
Paul, Donna and their daughter, Kim, specialize in growing dry beans for farmers, ranchers and landowners who want to have dry beans in their rotation, but don't want to raise the crop themselves.
They cash rent most of the land, but they also do some of it on shares.
Their landlords include farmers who haven't grown dry beans before and want to see how they do on their land; older farmers who don't want to invest in row crop equipment themselves, want to capture some of the profit from dry beans; stockgrowers who prefer to work with forage crops and animals and leave growing dry beans to the Backstroms; and a landowner who is renting land to potato growers. Dry beans are a good rotation crop to use with potatoes, but potato growers often have someone else grow them.
The Backstroms started growing beans in 1987, when Bill Ongstad, Robinson, put some in for them on shares.
In 1995, they started growing beans for other people. It turned out be a good decision because in 1997 the Backstrom had to drop all their rented land and sell the 230 tillable acres that they owned. Paul had bought land in 1979 near the peak of the market and wasn't able to make ends meet during the series of wet years and crop disasters in northeast North Dakota in the early and mid 1990s.
In 1998, they started growing pintos exclusively.
"We helped some people get into dry beans by growing beans for them until they decided to invest in the equipment themselves," Paul says. But along the way they also developed some good customers who continued to let rent them land for bean production.
The all-bean advantage
Growing all dry beans has allowed the Backstroms to streamline their operation.
Their equipment line up is all row-crop machinery. They have a 12-row planter, a Jet Stream and band sprayer, and one cultivator. They run conventional grain combines. One is equipped with a special bean rotor. Another is outfitted with a slow down kit. Both have conveyor unloaders.
They create management zones in fields and vary the fertilizer rate for dry beans based on the zones' long-term productivity levels. They are trying a new low-rate, split herbicide and additive application to control weeds and improve plant healthy. It has the potential to cut their costs $5-$10 per acre.
"It's our first year," Paul says. "We'll see how it works out."
Even though they grow only one crop, they can still get fieldwork done in a timely manner because their ground is spread out over 25 miles.
Growing 1,000 acres of dry beans isn't so unusual, Paul points out. Many large farms grow more acres of dry beans than that, while also growing other crops in the rotation.
Custom fertilizer applications
The Backstroms also have a custom variable rate fertilizer application business. They use satellite or aerial photos and yield, soil and electrical conductivity maps to create management zones.
They soil test the zones individually to determine how plant nutrients levels vary in the soil. They then create a variable rate application program for the field and use a MDI applicator and chisel plow to apply anhydrous ammonia.
Daughter joins farm
The combination of running a custom fertilizer application business and raising dry beans has turned out to be a good way to start over in farming.
"We're doing okay." Paul says. "We are finally getting close to that 50% equity level that bankers say is one of the keys being able to survive tough times."
It's also made it possible for Kim to return to the farm. She handles much of the dry bean planting and cultivating chores and precision farming computer work.
A graduate of Northwestern College, Kim wanted to live in a rural area and work in youth ministry.
The farm fulfills one of her goals.
"I've always loved farming and dad needed help," she says, explaining her reasons for choosing ag as a career.
Kim also is the new 2004-2005 head high school boys basketball coach at Maddock. Kim coached elementary and junior high girls teams in Maddock and the Twin Cities for two years. "Coaching is a good way for me to be involved in the community and to work with kids," Kim says.
The Backstroms hope that their unique combination of beans, custom variable rate fertilizer application and basketball turns out to be a winner for everyone involved.
It's made it possible for Kim to return to the farm. She handles much of the dry bean planting and cultivating chores and the precision farming computer work.
Paul and Kim like focusing on growing dry beans.