Dry bean, chickpea acres gain

Dave Wilkins/Capital Press Terry Cox loads a planter April 1 near Filer, Idaho. He was preparing to plant malting barley for farmer Eric Williams. Barley acreage in Idaho is expected to remain steady at about 530,000 acres this year, while dry bean acreage is expected to jump 25 percent to 125,000 acres, according to a USDA report.

Despite recent moderation, prices are still high

By DAVE WILKINS

Capital Press

Beans have a lot going for them these days and it's not just their high protein content.

Plantings of dry beans and chickpeas are both expected to be up this year, according to the USDA's planting intentions report released March 31.

Nationally, farmers are expected to plant 1.77 million acres of dry beans, up 15 percent from last year. Plantings of chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans, are projected at 130,600 acres, up 36 percent from last year and 56 percent higher than 2008.

Both dry beans and chickpeas have shown strong market fundamentals the past couple of years compared with many competing crops, according to industry officials.

Several factors are behind the positive outlook for dry beans, a category that includes pinto, pink and small red beans.

* Dry bean contracts, both seed and commercial, offer growers a guaranteed return -- no small consideration when farmers apply for an operating loan.

* Prices have been at record highs the past few years. While prices have backed off somewhat, they're still attractive.

Southern Idaho farmers with pintos to sell could get about $30 per hundredweight recently, compared with $36 to $38 a year ago.

Several warehouses in south-central Idaho have offered 2010 crop contracts with a $28 per hundredweight floor price. The actual payment could be higher if the market improves.

"You can still make pretty good money on dry beans even at $28," said Carter Wilson, a bean dealer at J.P. Wilson Co. in Twin Falls, Idaho.

* Government purchases have helped buoy the dry bean market. USDA has made several purchases within the past five months and is expected to buy more this summer for the Haitian relief effort.

* The recession may be spurring demand for dry beans as cash-strapped consumers look for economical, yet healthful meals to eat at home. Beans may substitute for more expensive protein sources.

The USDA estimates that Idaho dry bean plantings, including chickpeas, will be about 125,000 acres this year, an increase of 25 percent from 2009.

Wilson said dry bean acreage by itself will be about 82,000 acres, a more modest increase of about 12 to 13 percent.

Idaho farmers intend to plant about 43,000 acres of chickpeas, an increase of about 32 percent from last year.

It looks like growers in both Idaho and Washington plan to shift some of their acres from dry peas and lentils into chickpeas, said Tim McGreevy, president of the USA Dry Pea & Lentil Council.

Recent grower prices, at 25 to 30 cents per pound, have been fairly strong, he said.

"We haven't gotten them in the ground yet, but we certainly expect to see an increase in chickpea acres," McGreevy said.

"We're seeing good strong demand domestically for chickpeas and good exports over the past year," he said. "Carryover stocks will be pretty low going into the marketing year."

Some of the increase in bean acres could come at the expense of feed crops. The dairy industry is still in a slump, hay prices are down, and the USDA estimates that Idaho farmers will harvest 2 percent fewer hay acres than they did last year.

Idaho farmers intend to seed 300,000 acres of field corn this year, unchanged from last year.

Barley seedings are expected to total 530,000 acres in Idaho, unchanged from 2009.

Growers said they have seen reductions in some malting barley contracts this year, both in terms of acreage and price.

Eric Williams, a grower from Filer, Idaho, said one of his malting barley contracts will pay $8.75 per hundredweight this year. The same contract last year paid $12.50, he said.

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