NE Colo. beans hurt most by recent heavy rains

Story Eric Brown
The Fence Post

Bean farmers prefer dry Septembers, but that isn’t at all what they’ve received in northeast Colorado in recent weeks, and some say their crops are suffering more now than in any other year in recent memory.

Significant amounts of moisture this time of year can cause discoloration and sprouting for mature beans still out in the fields, negatively impacting the appearance — detrimental for a crop that’s sold on grocery store shelves.

This month’s downpours — 4.7 inches of rain in Greeley, Colo., so far, nearly five times the normal amount — have certainly had that effect, local bean farmers say.

“All of the fields are saturated, and we’re getting behind in harvesting all of our crops … but beans are what’s really ugly right now,” said Mike Hungenberg with Hungenberg Produce near Greeley, which grows beans, carrots, cabbage and onions, among other crops.

Hungenberg and others said most other crops sitting in wet fields could still bounce back from any damage, as long as it dries up soon enough — and for long enough — to be harvested before temperatures drop too low later in the fall, potentially killing some crops if they are still out in the fields at that point.

But that’s not the case for beans.

“The damage has been done already,” said Larry Lande of Northern Feed and Bean in Lucerne, Colo. — a company that markets and exports about 80 percent of its locally harvested beans to Mexico. “Beans, more than other crops, just can’t handle this kind of moisture. The only hope now is that it dries up soon, so guys can get at least a little something for their beans.”

Darin Anderson with Sunset Trading in Greeley — which markets and exports nearly half of its beans to countries like Mexico and Angola, while the rest are sold to mostly smaller stores in the United States — said pinto bean prices right now are at about $45 per hundredweight, but the quality of beans around Weld County, Colo., might only bring in about $25, maybe less.

Anderson estimated that only about 40 percent of the local bean crop — about 5,000 acres in Weld County — has been harvested, meaning the majority of the area’s beans are still sitting in wet fields.

Bean harvest typically starts in late August and wraps up in September or early October.

Beans, which grow on vines, are cut at the ground at harvest. The vines are put in windrows to dry before farmers move through the fields with a combine, which gathers the vines and shakes the beans out of their pods into a hopper. The combine then ejects the remaining debris back on the field.

While all beans are suffering from too much moisture right now, farmers say the beans being particularly hit hard are those ones that have been cut and are still sitting in windrows out in the fields, and getting rained on in recent days.

Steve Kelly, a Greeley area farmer, said he’s moved some of his piles of windrowed beans to help them air out and dry faster, but it’s only helping so much, and it keeps raining.

“We’ll get them harvested, but I’m not sure how marketable the beans will be,” he said.

Kelly, who’s grown beans since about 1985, noted that he typically has no trouble growing No. 1 quality beans — the highest quality of bean, which also gets the best price.

He said hail storms in the past have left him No. 2 quality beans, but he’s not sure he’ll have even that after he harvests his crop this year.

Hungenberg said a load he hauled to Northern Feed and Bean a week ago didn’t qualify as No. 2 quality — and it’s rained even more on his fields since then.

“(The beans) were about 20 percent moisture, and they (Northern Feed and Bean) like it to be around 12 percent,” Hungenberg said. “It’s just way too wet right now.” ❖