Hot, dry Big Horn Basin suits dry bean cropWritten by Christy Hemken
“Bean companies were very aggressive in securing contracts and acres with good contract prices for this year,” he says, noting that while corn and other commodities have dropped this year, beans have remained high. “Last year contracts signed for around $1,200 per acre. This year they won’t be quite that high, but they’ve held their value much more than other commodities.”
In Wyoming dry beans are grown in the Big Horn Basin, the Riverton area and in the southeast corner of the state. “A couple of things make the Big Horn Basin ideal for dry beans, but primarily it’s the climate with very little humidity and precipitation,” says Violet.
He says the biggest issue with dry beans is disease, and most are fungal diseases that thrive in humidity and moisture. “On an average year we don’t have much of that, so we have very little disease pressure,” he says, adding that dry beans do very well in furrow irrigation rather than sprinklers for the same reason.
Regarding weed pressure, Violet says the biggest weeds the Basin contends with are black nightshade and hairy nightshade. “The nightshades mature so late in the year they escape our herbicide program, and they have a seed pod that’s still green in the fall when we’re ready to harvest, with a high moisture content and a sticky substance. If you run that through your combine it gums things up and sticks things together and the seed gets stuck to the bean,” he explains. “The nightshades are the biggest economic problem, and if you have it you have to remove it by hand because there’s zero tolerance for having nightshade in a seed field.”
He says the new rotation of Roundup Ready sugarbeets into those fields should help in cleaning up the nightshade problem. Relating to Roundup Ready technology for dry beans themselves, Violet says he doesn’t see it happening. “Besides nightshades, weeds aren’t that big of a problem,” he says. “We use a lot of pre-plant herbicides that are pretty effective, and the beans grow rapidly and are very competitive with their creeping vines, so they can choke out a lot of weeds.”
He says weed pressure in dry beans is nothing like it was in sugarbeets, so the drive for a company to spend the money isn’t there. He sees testing on disease and drought resistance as a more likely route for researchers to take.
“The big thing in research is yield – trying to get seven or eight seeds per pod,” he continues. “Another thing they’re working really hard on is developing a variety that puts the pod up high on a plant and gets them off the ground so they can be direct cut.”
Dry beans are typically harvested with a bean cutter that lifts the plant out of the ground, after which several rows are combined into one windrow to dry out and cure. “When you combine those with a pickup head you get a lot of rocks and dirt in the reel, so developing a variety where you don’t have to do all that is at the forefront,” says Violet.
A variety with higher seedpods could be direct cut in the same manner as wheat and barley. However, Violet says he hasn’t yet seen a whole lot of progress.
Concerning insects and diseases, Violet says the Basin hasn’t had a problem with either for quite a few years.
The Big Horn Basin’s dry bean market is driven by seed beans that head for the Red River Valley in North Dakota, which has recently seen major pressure from flooding. “It’ll be interesting to see how the flooding will affect their bean acreage this year. Because the bean companies have already contracted for seed this year it won’t affect this year’s price at all, but it may have a domino effect in years to come,” notes Violet.
The PREC trials a variety of dry beans, including dark and light kidney beans, black beans, navy beans and pinto beans.
“The big contracts and the majority of beans in this area are pinto beans,” says Violet. He says there are varieties of pinto beans that are more producer-friendly and with which producers are familiar with the production and yields. “Harvest is a big thing for how well they cut and combine, and shatter is another issue with beans.”
Shatter occurs when the bean pods dry up and split open and the seeds fall out. “Black and navies tend to shatter sooner than pintos, so pintos are friendly for producers to grow and their yields tend to be up and they combine well,” explains Violet.
Another advantage to dry beans is they don’t require much nitrogen. “When nitrogen prices were way high it was easy to find people to grow beans,” says Violet. “Now that phosphorus is way expensive, that’s settled some of the fertilizer issues in terms of competition for acreage.”
Violet says yet another boon of the crop is it doesn’t go in until May, and even early June for short-season varieties. “Right now guys are just finishing barley planting and starting to get sugarbeets bedded and planted this week. As soon as they get beets done, then they’ll have some time before they have to be in a big hurry about beans.”
Also, dry beans prefer well-draining soils, so rocky or coarse soils that make it hard to keep sugarbeets and barley irrigated are well-suited for a dry bean crop.
He says most producers pre-irrigate, then come in a week to 10 days later and plant. “They’ll let the bean sprout and start growing, and depending on the weather, they won’t have to irrigate again for another month.”
Because of their late planting date, bean outlooks aren’t available until mid-June, when too much rain or too much cold really matter. “Beans do very well when it’s hot and dry,” he says.