US farmers produce bountiful crop of dry beans; shipping woes could impact effect on consumers

Economic Indicators Associated Press

U.S. farmers produced a bountiful crop of dry beans this year, but any potential savings for consumers might be gobbled up by freight problems in the Northern Plains, where much of the crop is grown.

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This year's crop of beans such as kidneys, navies, garbanzos and pintos totaled nearly 28.7 million hundredweight, up 17 percent from 2013, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data. The increase was even more pronounced in North Dakota and Minnesota, which together produced about 40 percent of the nation's crop.

Total production in the two states was up 20 percent, due largely to a big jump in acres prompted by projected lower prices for soybeans last spring when farmers were making decisions on what to plant.

"That's what people swap back and forth," farmer Joe Mauch said of the two crops. "At planting time, there was a pretty decent price for (dry beans), as compared to the outlook for soybeans and also corn at the time."

The big increase in acres — 24 percent in Minnesota and 43 percent in North Dakota compared to planted acres in 2013 — more than softened the blow of a drop in average yield of 12-13 percent due to a wet spring and fall.

Mauch, who has farmed near Hankinson in southeastern North Dakota for nearly two decades and serves as president of the two-state Northarvest Bean Growers Association, said he expects the large crop to push down prices that farmers receive. That, in turn, could lower prices in grocery stores, but both Mauch and U.S. Dry Bean Council President Bill Thoreson said any potential savings for consumers might be balanced out by shipping problems.

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Grain elevators in the region have had a difficult time this fall getting the train cars they need to move grain to market, due to delays caused by increased shipments of oil and other products. Railroads have been working to address the backlog, but companies such as North Central Commodities — for whom Thoreson is sales manager — have been forced to turn to trucks to deliver beans to food companies.

"When moving truck freight at three times the cost to the end market, you really don't see that big a change" in the cost of finished products, Thoreson said.

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