By SEAN ELLIS
BOISE -- Dry bean acres in Idaho are expected to be down significantly from last year due to lower prices and competition from other high-priced commodities.
USDA estimates Idaho farmers will plant 57,000 acres of dry beans in 2013, a 16 percent decline from the 68,000 planted in 2012. That estimate does not include chickpeas.
Some growers and industry leaders think the decline could be more dramatic.
"I think they could be down somewhere between 20 to 30 percent," Don Tolmie, production manager for Treasure Valley Seed in Homedale, said.
Tolmie and others attribute the acreage decline to large carryover from last year and weak movement of stocks on hand.
Because of over-production around the nation last year, a lot of beans are being held in reserve, Idaho Bean Commission Administrator Lacey Menasco told lawmakers recently.
Coupled with declining prices and competition from other commodities such as corn, potatoes, sugar beets and onions, dry bean acres in Idaho could drop significantly, said Bill Bitzenburg, who grows about 250 acres of beans a year in the Twin Falls area.
Heading into the 2012 season, there was basically no carryover, he says, and it was the first time he ever signed fall contracts. This year is a different story, he adds.
A friend who planted 450 acres of beans last year has all his acres under contract to other commodities this year, Bitzenburg said. "You wonder how many other guys are in that position."
Dry bean acreage in Idaho reached 81,000 in 2010, then fell to 43,000 in 2011 before increasing to 68,000 last year.
"I think acres will be down considerably if you compare them to last year. If you use the five-year average, they will be down a bit," said Idaho Bean Commission Chairman Lorell Skogsberg.
Others see acreage declining but not as much.
"I think acres will be down slightly," said IBC Commissioner Gina Lohnes, who works for Trinidad Benham Corp., a bean dealer near Twin Falls.
Dana Rasmussen, who grows 330 acres of beans in Paul, Idaho, agrees.
"I don't see it dropping a whole lot," he said.
Tolmie said a big wild card is precipitation. Growers won't start planting dry beans in Idaho until early May at the soonest and he believes a looming water shortage in the region could be enough to persuade some farmers to grow dry beans, which require a lot less water than corn, onions, potatoes and sugar beets.
Those crops require about 3 to 4 acre-feet of water per season to grow in this area, while dry beans require about 2 to 2.5 acre-feet, he said.
"The water situation is a great unknown right now," Tolmie said. "It might force more acres into dry beans."