Manderson – A Montana-based company marketing dry pinto beans into over 40 states has now expanded to Manderson, offering new opportunities for Wyoming producers.
“Russell E. Womack is a family-owned business with family stock holders and two co-presidents. It was started in the early 1970s by the current generation’s uncle, and Yellowstone Bean is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Russell E. Womack,” explains Yellowstone Bean Vice President Todd Curtiss of the company’s history prior to expanding to the Big Horn Basin in 2010.
“Russell E. Womack is based in Lubbock, Texas, and they process and package dry pinto beans into one-, two-, four-, 10-, 20-, and 50- pound casserole packages,” continues Curtiss. “They’re in 6,500 grocery stores in over 40 states. “
He adds that the company has purchased Big Horn Basin beans from a number of companies for over 20 years, and recently decided to solidify their supply in the area.
“In doing that, they purchased Yellowstone Bean, which was located in Bridger, Mont., in January 2008, and I started with the company at that time. From there we have added this facility, and currently employ 15 to 20 full-time employees and hire additional help during harvest, company wide,” says Curtiss of the company’s growth.
“The reason for solidifying supply is to basically go from farmer to shelf, and that allows us to do a lot of things. We can put out a very competitive price to our growers by not having another person in the middle, it allows us to guarantee supply, and we know what we have in our bins and the quality of beans we’re dealing with,” explains Curtiss.
The Manderson facility was started in April 2010, and is currently comprised of six 60,000-bushel storage bins.
“We filled five out of the six bins last year, and that was an above-average crop. We designed the facility for a static number of acres, and we will be at that target number this year,” comments Curtiss.
“The facility ended up being built on a pretty tight schedule. We started dirt work July 22, concrete was poured Aug. 14 and we put beans in on Sept. 14. At the beginning of harvest we had to utilize a competing company’s bins for two weeks because the schedule was so tight. We were bringing in a million pounds of beans a day, and were really starting to wonder when we would be in our own bins,” notes Curtiss with a laugh.
One goal Yellowstone Bean made a top priority during the building phase was to support local businesses.
“Everything except the bin crew that put up the bins is local. Our electrical workers, dirt and concrete guys, the people who built the sheds and buildings on the facility, the office furniture – it all came from up and down the Big Horn Basin, and we made that a top priority. We are a local company, and we wanted to support other local companies, and we’re proud to do so,” says Curtiss.
He adds that the benefits of being a local company extend to the product, as well.
“We contract annually with growers. We don’t do anything more long-term than that because the market makes it really difficult to do so. But people do business with us directly, and we live here, and we go out and meet our growers personally,” says Curtiss, adding that he really enjoys that aspect of the job.
When beans arrive at the facility, they are run across a scalper to remove excess dirt on their way to the bins. Then, while being loaded onto a rail car, they are run across a gravity screen to further remove dirt and debris.
“Beans are shipped to Lubbock to be milled, cleaned and packaged. Here we sort beans into different bins based on size and quality, then ship everything to Texas via rail car. We do have the capability to load trucks out of this facility, but don’t do that at this time,” explains Curtiss.
Wyoming beans are considered a quality product, in part because of their light, bright color.
“They definitely cook faster, and stay brighter during cooking, because they haven’t gone through the weather changes you’ll see in other states. Fall rains and weather variations cause the seed coat to harden, and Wyoming doesn’t receive those weather conditions as much as other areas. A really nice, bright bean also looks good on the shelf, and is attractive to customers,” explains Curtiss.
Of the facility’s future plans, Curtiss says they are currently satisfied with the size of their Manderson facility.
“Right now we’re happy with where we are. We do have enough acreage to have the option to do additional things, and we can’t rule anything out, but I don’t have any plans currently. We’ve put in a pretty large-scale facility, and I will say we are definitely here to stay for a vey long time,” comments Curtiss.
Yellowstone Bean is a member of the Rocky Mountain Bean Dealers Association, and Curtiss is also involved in the Ag Issues Committee on the U.S. Dry Beans Council.
“Those things are another step that provide a different service to our growers and farmers, and give them a voice. It also gives us insight into more political issues that everyone may not always be aware of. We all do a little bit of everything around here, and like it that way,” explains Curtiss.