Bean contract prices near $45 a hundredweight
By SEAN ELLIS
Encouraged by higher prices, Idaho growers will plant an estimated 130,000 acres of dry beans this year, significantly more than last season.
This year's massive upswing in total bean acreage follows an almost equally big downturn in 2011. Idaho farmers harvested 94,000 acres of dry beans in 2011, which was 40,000 acres fewer than in 2010.
However, with bean prices much higher this year, Gem State farmers will plant an estimated 37 percent more acres in 2012, according to the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service.
"Acres were down last year, so inventory is very low and prices, consequently, have gone up quite considerably," said Idaho Bean Commission Administrator Diana Caldwell.
While many Idaho farmers turned to other crops such as wheat, potatoes, sugar beets and corn last year in hopes of making more money, a lot of them are switching back to beans in 2012.
Pinto prices, the engine that drives bean prices, hovered just over $20 per hundredweight heading into the 2011 planting season. However, open market prices went above $40 later in the year.
IBC board member and farmer Leonard Andrew said bean contracts are in the $40 to $45 per hundredweight range, making that crop competitive with other major Idaho crops.
"It's the highest I've ever contracted beans for," he said.
Prices heading into last year weren't anything to get excited about, he adds, while corn and grain were both high.
"But bean prices have remained high and a lot of guys are looking at beans as a very viable alternative," Andrew said. "Price-wise, it's competitive rather than being the underdog."
Input costs have also played a major role in the acreage increase, said Don Tolmie, production manager for Treasure Valley Seed Co. Beans are much cheaper to grow than corn and other major Idaho crops, he said, so the current high prices make them a very attractive alternative right now.
"You can still grow a crop of beans for a lot less than you can grow a crop of corn, sugar beets or any of the other cash commodities," he said. "When you can clear more for a crop of beans than you can for (those other crops), that's where the rubber meets the road."
While about 70 percent of the state's dry bean crop is normally grown for seed, Andrew suspects a larger percentage of beans might be grown for commercial markets this year in Idaho because of low inventory.
"The commercial market looks really good right now," he said.
Dry bean acres nationally are forecast to total 1.67 million acres in 2012, which is a 38 percent increase from last year. National dry bean production in 2011 was down 35 percent from 2010.
Garden seed acres down
Garden bean seed acres in Idaho this year will be down slightly from 2011 but sales are steady and the correction is mainly due to a good inventory situation, Idaho Bean Commission Chairman Lorell Skogsberg said.
Skogsberg said 2011 was a good production year in Idaho for garden bean seed so inventories are solid. As a result, acres are expected to total about 10,000 in 2012, down from 11,500 last year.
Sales remain good and prices are solid, he said. "It's not a big correction. Part of it is an inventory vs. forecast correction."