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Sullivan, G.H. and L.R. Davenport. 1993. Dry edible beans: A new crop opportunity for the East North Central Region. p. 585-588. In: J. Janick and J.E. Simon (eds.), New crops. Wiley, New York.

Dry Edible Beans: A New Crop Opportunity for the East North Central Region

Glenn H. Sullivan and Lonni R. Davenport

  5. Table 1
  6. Table 2
  7. Table 3
  8. Fig. 1

Dry edible bean production in the United States increased from 0.8 million tonnes in 1970 to 1.5 million tonnes in 1990 (Table 1). Production expansion during this period was led by a 21% increase in domestic consumption and a 153% increase in export trade (USDA 1990). The most common commercial classes of dry beans grown in the United States include: small red, kidney, pinto, navy, and great northern (Phaseolus vulgaris); small lima (P. lunatus); and large lima (P. limensis). The largest share of domestic dry edible bean production in 1990 was comprised of pinto and navy beans, with 42 and 20% of total United States production, respectively (Table 2).

The dry bean industry is characterized by high regional concentration in production and processing (Fig. 1). However, production concentration is geographically dislocated from dry bean processing facilities. Dry bean processors are located predominantly in the eastern regions of the United States and Canada, while production expansion between 1970 and 1990 has accrued in the western regions (Table 1). This geographic dislocation between production and processing, combined with changing economic conditions within the industry, has forced dry bean processor to consider strategies for procuring supplies from areas with greater geo-economic relevance to their processing facilities and final demand.


With the exception of Michigan in the East North Central Region (ENCR), dry edible bean production has concentrated in the western regions of the United States (Table 1). Michigan led the nation in dry bean production in 1990, with about 17% of total production; followed by North Dakota and Nebraska with about 15% each. During the period 1970 to 1990, production in the West North Central Region (WNCR) increased 413%, followed by the Mountain Region (MR) at 96% (Table 1). Total dry bean production in the ENCR decreased 11.5% during this period.

Pinto beans comprise the largest volume of any dry bean class produced for human consumption in the United States (Table 2). Total pinto bean production increased 151% between 1970 and 1990, with North Dakota and Colorado accounting for almost half of the crop. Exports and rising domestic demand for ethnic foods have contributed significantly to continued production expansion in pinto beans.

Navy beans accounted for the second largest volume of dry edible bean production in 1990, however, their domestic share of total production has declined (Table 2). This decline resulted primarily from lower export demand in Canada and the United Kingdom since 1980. Michigan's overall decline in dry bean production between 1980 and 1990 was directly attributed to weaker market demand for navy beans. Michigan accounts for over 50% of all navy bean production in the United States.

Food service industry demand in the United States has generated new production opportunities for dry bean classes not previously grown in large quantities, including small red, small white, and pink beans (P. vulgaris); blackeye pea (Vigna unguiculata); and garbanzo/chickpea (Cicer arietinum). Next to pinto beans, these specialty dry bean classes collectively generated the highest rate of domestic production expansion between 1970 and 1990 (Table 2). The small red dry bean class currently exhibits the greatest demand growth, and the greatest potential for production expansion in the ENCR.


Total farm value of dry edible bean production in the United States was estimated at $906 million in 1990; up from $737 million in 1980 (USDA 1991). While producers in the ENCR accounted for only 17% of the farmgate value for all domestic dry bean production in 1990, they are strategically positioned geographically and economically to significantly expand production (Sullivan 1990). Nearly two-thirds of all dry bean processors are located in the eastern regions of the United States, with the largest concentration in the ENCR and Ontario, Canada (Fig. 1). In addition, western dry bean production and transportation costs since 1987 have continued to increase at rates greater than consumer prices, thus encouraging eastern processors to lower costs by developing supply alternatives in closer proximity to their processing operations.

Potential net returns from dry edible beans as an alternative crop favor production expansion in the ENCR (Westcott and Zepp 1989). At current yields, gross receipts of $576/acre ($1,423/ha) are possible. Net returns at this level compete favorably with maize and soybean production under midwestern conditions in most years. Assuming designation by the Secretary of Agriculture under the triple-base statutes of the 1990 Farm Bill, producers in the ENCR could further increase their competitive position. Producers could substitute dry bean crops for a portion of their program area without accruing future crop base penalties. Under this program provision, the breakeven price for dry edible bean production would be consistently lower for ENCR producers than for producers in western regions (Westcott and Zepp 1989). While dry bean prices have been well above $16.50 per hundredweight ($363.66/t) over the last ten years (Table 3), prices at this level would still generate net returns that are competitive with maize in the ENCR. By comparison, dry bean prices would have to consistently exceed $24 per hundredweight ($529/t) to profitably compete with maize production in most western regions. This price level would also encourage the expansion of dry bean imports into the United States.


Studies conducted by the Purdue Center for New Crops, in cooperation with the Brooks Foods Division of Curtice-Burns, Inc., confirmed that market and production opportunities existed for selected dry bean classes in the ENCR; particularly for the small red bean class. These studies further confirmed that dry edible bean production expansion in the ENCR has not been slowed by economic factors, but rather by lack of cultivars adapted to regional climatic and cultural conditions.

A statewide research and development initiative is geared to expand dry edible bean production in Indiana. The Indiana Business Modernization and Technology Corporation, and the Indiana Commissioner of Agriculture's Value-Added Grants Program provided development grants to help accomplish the objectives of this program initiative. Brooks Foods has provided the industry leadership for developing, testing, multiplying and commercializing small red bean cultivars that can be adapted to farming conditions in Indiana and the ENCR. Promising cultivar selections were made and multiplied in cooperation with Asgrow Seed Company in 1990 for further field testing in 1991 and 1992. Seed multiplication for limited commercial plantings has been targeted for 1993, with full commercialization by Brooks Foods expected in 1994. Market and economic feasibility assessments indicate that these initiatives could increase dry edible bean production in the ENCR by 37 thousand tonnes annually (Sullivan 1990). This level of expansion translates into nearly 45 thousand acres (18,225 ha) of new production opportunities for growers.


Table 1. Dry edible bean production, by state and region.

Region 1970 1980 1990
Production (tonnes) Value ($1000) Production (tonnes) Value ($1000) Production (tonnes) Value ($1000)z
East North Central
Michigan 279,100 59,684 351,631 204,653 246,985 143,204
Colorado 90,630 14,985 105,326 66,641 193,914 120,128
Idaho 89,541 15,595 151,003 94,211 161,482 97,544
Wyoming 23,043 3,861 40,416 24,681 43,772 23,160
California 120,930 31,992 172,958 124,685 140,979 113,442
Washington 29,938 6,006 48,989 29,700 41,368 23,712
West North Central
North Dakota 18,280 2,660 121,474 66,147 227,027 125,125
Nebraska 70,218 12,384 123,833 73,437 226,981 128,102
Other 67,541 13,165 96,798 53,292 188,471 116,257
United States 789,219 160,332 1,212,427 737,447 1,470,979 906,391
zEstimated. Source: NASS/USDA, CED/ERS, TVS-252, November 1990; TVS-253, April 1991; TVS-254, August 1991.

Table 2. Dry edible bean production, by commercial class of bean.

Production (tonnes)
Class 1970 1980 1990
Baby Lima 21,682 20,276 24,948
Large Lima 25,311 34,383 20,866
Great Northern 64,865 96,209 128,006
Pinto 244,218 468,705 613,382
Navy 234,965 259,323 299,059
Red Kidneyz 59,059 79,698 106,777
Other 139,119 253,835 277,603
Total 789,219 1,212,427 1,470,979
zNot comparable to previous years, 1990 estimates include both light red and dark red kidneys. Source: NASS/USDA, CED/ERS, TVS-252, November 1990; TVS-253, April 1991; TVS-254, August 1991.

Table 3. Average annual grower price by dry edible bean commercial class ($/tonnes).

Class 1981/82 1985/86 1989/90
Great Northern 586.70 595.79 726.54
Pinto 392.93 487.08 893.24
Small Reds 463.93 512.44 737.57
Pinks 397.56 505.61 775.28
Baby Lima 590.49 449.38 742.42
Large Lima 814.09 515.97 949.47
Blackeye Pea 687.30 503.62 686.64
Small Whites --- 451.80 644.96
Lt. Red Kidney 692.15 590.94 947.04
Garbanzo (chickpea) 1,046.27 766.67 795.12
Navy 702.95 409.24 657.53
Source: NASS/USDA, CED/ERS, TVS-252, November 1990; TVS-253, April 1991; TVS-254, August 1991.

Fig. 1. Dry beans production and processor locations.
Last update September 17, 1997 aw