Organic Beans and Peas: Nutritious and Gluten-free Local Foods
In the Upper Midwest, edible legumes provide an opportunity for year-around access to sustainably grown, nutritious local foods for families and institutions. Our objective is to promote diversification of organic cropping systems with grain legumes and to supply healthy local foods. As the first step in this process, we are studying cultural practices and grain legume marketing. Replicated field research is being conducted on cooperating organic farms and at Research and Outreach Centers. We are evaluating multiple market classes of field beans and peas and studying crop rotations and mulches for weed control. As the field experiments continue, we will measure yields of the legume grain crops, yield effects on subsequent crops, and conduct statistical and economic analyses of our findings. Our economic analysis will take into consideration variable costs and pricing. In conjunction with the agronomic research, we are evaluating markets for organic legumes through local food networks. We will increase understanding and application of the economics and rotation benefits of producing alternative protein crops; create publications on producing and marketing local organic beans and peas; generate crop enterprise budgets for organic edible legumes; provide local foods marketing approaches; write scientific and educational publications; and hold focus groups, summer field days, and winter workshops. Our primary audience of organic producers, extension educators, and consumers will gain knowledge of benefits of growing organic edible legumes and gain local markets and marketing channels.
Objective 1. Determine the performance of edible bean and pea varieties. Evaluate the performance of edible bean and pea varieties from 2012 to 2014 by conducting research on organic land on on-farm sites and field research stations.
Objective 2. Compare the agroecological value of edible beans and peas grown in rotation with corn, alfalfa, and wheat. Conduct a replicated 3-year rotational experiment on certified organic land at the Elwell Ecological Station at Lamberton and the Waseca Research and Outreach Center from 2012 to 2014.
Objective 3. Determine the effect of winter cover crops on yield and weed control in field beans and peas. Conduct an experiment on certified organic land at the Elwell Ecological Farm at Lamberton and at one on-farm location in 2012 and 2013.
Objective 4. Develop crop enterprise budgets for organic edible beans and peas. Use input and output data generated from the field research (Objectives 1–3) to develop enterprise budgets. Budgets will explore the price and yield conditions under which edible beans and peas could compete with corn and soybean and organize yield, price, and cost information to compare profitability and make decisions such as which crop to grow. Enterprise budgets will to be tailored to the specifics of different growing regions and markets.
Objective 5. Identify local markets to describe the various marketing channels available to producers. Measure the size and scope of marketing channels for the organic dry edible bean and pea market in Minnesota to identify the opportunities for producers. Estimate the general size of the organic edible bean market, current sources for those edible legumes, and examine a mix of channels open to producers and growers looking to market edible legumes.
Outreach. Disseminate our research and market survey results via field days, organic conferences, workshops throughout the project term and though extension and other publications to be completed near the end of this project.
Experiments to determine the yield and quality of commercial edible field bean were conducted during the 2012-2014 Minnesota growing seasons. Plots were established at five locations: Southwest Research and Outreach Center in Lamberton, MN; A-Frame Farms in Madison, MN; Rosemount Research and Outreach Center in Rosemount, MN (2012-2013); NDSU Agricultural Station in Carrington, ND (2014 only); and the Sandplain Research Farm in Becker, MN.
- Estimated yield across all seed classes and varieties ranged from 2527 lb/ac (Maverick) to 1051 lb/ac (OAC Lyrik). Medium-seeded (avg. = 2143 lb/ac) varieties outperformed small (avg. = 1960 lb/ac) and large (avg. = 1376 lb/ac) seeded varieties (Figure 1). The random effect of environment was statistically significant (p < 0.001) across all seed size classes. Large-seeded varieties were most affected by environment.
- These data indicate that growers new to Minnesota dry bean production and/or organic management should first consider reliable, stable market classes such as black, pinto, and navy. Varieties representative of the small/medium seed classes, such as Zenith, Maverick, and Alpena, are suggested. In doing so, growers are poised to obtain stable yield and a reliable economic return. Organic producers with well-established soils and management strategies may wish to venture into production of large-seeded varieties, such as OAC Inferno or Majesty. Ultimately, this work helps to guide the formation of a breeding model specific to traits specifically for Minnesota organic production systems.
A 3-year rotational experiment: Year 1) corn or alfalfa, Year 2) dry beans and soybeans (6 types), and Year 3) wheat, is being conducted on farm sites as well as University of Minnesota research sites in Lamberton, Becker, and Rosemount, Minnesota.
- The first rotation (2012-2014) was in the final wheat phase at all of our locations. This spring, samples for nitrates, phosphorus, and potassium were taken at depths of 0-1’ and 1-2’ on a plot basis. Variable rates (0, 30, 60, 90, and 120 lbs) of organic nitrogen were then applied to assess the fertilizer N equivalency of dry beans on the subsequent wheat yield. Wheat was harvested, and straw and grain yields were recorded. Weed biomass was also measured.
- Figures 2-3 below show the rotation effect of both the previous crop of corn or alfalfa, and varying dry bean varieties on wheat yield in the last year of the rotation. These are examples from two locations; Lamberton (SWROC) and Madison, MN, both of which are on certified organic land. No rotation effects were observed on wheat yield at SWROC (Figure 2), but at Madison wheat yields were significantly higher following corn than alfalfa (Figure 3). Preliminary observations suggests this could be due to large amount of manure put on the corn fields in Madison, as compared to the alfalfa fields. Figures 4-5 from the same locations compare the N-rate response of wheat yields at increasing rates of organic N application.
- In a trial at Becker and Lamberton, which began in 2013 with corn or alfalfa, dry beans and soybeans were planted in 2014. Soil samples were taken in the spring to measure N, P, and K, at depths of 0-1’ and 1-2’. Before the first cultivation and at harvest, weed populations and biomass were also measured (Figure 6). Dry beans were harvested and yields were recorded (Figure 7).
This rotational experiment is ongoing, and wheat will be planted next year.
Winter rye cover crop treatments were planted in the fall. This spring, dry edible beans and peas will be planted into these plots. In the spring, rye either will be tilled, mowed, or rolled before bean and pea seeding. This cover crop work is ongoing at Lamberton, MN and no results are yet available.
Now that the majority of the data has been collected for the project, a crop enterprise budget for organic dry beans in MN is being developed with the help of Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships. Crop enterprise budgets include yield and costs such as seed, fertilizer, machinery, labor, transport, storage, and rent. These inputs are used to calculate overall costs and net returns based on different rotations.
Research staff at the Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships and the U of MN Agronomy Department examined the potential market channels for local, organic edible legumes. Market areas surveyed included farmers markets, dried bean distributors, community supported agriculture ventures, cooperative grocery stores, and restaurants. The goal of this research was to identify shortcomings and areas where future research is needed.
Farmers Market Vendor survey. Results of the 66 responses to the survey show that Minnesota growers have a range of experience in producing dried beans, with 30% cultivating these beans for more than six years to 10% of respondents currently in their first growing season. Size of operation also varied from small growers with less than one acre to larger operations planting over 40 acres of dried beans. Only 7.6% of survey participants currently sell their dried beans at the farmers market. This research indicates growers have varying success in selling beans at farmers markets. One barrier may be that farmers markets are not recognized by consumers as a source of dried beans. Demand for dried beans may increase if more consumers see farmers markets as a place they can purchase locally-grown, organic dried beans.
Dried Bean Distributor Survey. This report is an analysis of interviews with nine bean distributors in Minnesota. Responses from bean distributors were intended to help improve understanding of the role distributors play in the dry edible bean market.
All of the distributors reported sourcing all or most of their beans from farmers. Companies represented worked with 25-400 farms in a given year, depending on the distributor Distributors reported contracting with growers that had between 20 and 20,000 acres devoted to beans. All distributors sell all or most of their beans to processors. Figure 8 shows the varieties of beans sold by distributors. The most distributed beans in Minnesota were Navy, Kidney, and Pinto varieties, but the nine respondents surveyed sell a total of eight varieties of beans. Another distributor said that in addition to selling beans to canners, they sold some to dry processors. No distributors reported selling beans directly to retailers. Only two out of nine distributors reported working with organic dry beans. One distributor said that organic dry beans accounted for 1-3% of their total volume. Small organic producers who wish to meet this demand will have trouble working with the distributors interviewed for this report as these distributors work with limited varieties of beans and have little interest in working with small volumes or specialty varieties.
Dry Bean CSA Survey. This report is an analysis of a survey of CSA farmers in Minnesota. Responses from CSA farmers were intended to improve understanding of direct-to-consumer market channels. 37 CSA farmers completed the survey. While only 25% of CSA farms surveyed were certified organic, 64% of respondents produced according to organic standards. An additional 11% of farmers use a mixture of organic and conventional methods. Of the participating CSAs, 57% have experience growing dry beans, with 95% of these beans grown according to organic standards. However, the majority of the beans they have grown is for personal consumption. While 83% of respondents have considered growing and distributing dry beans, just under half of the respondents have grown and distributed dry beans through their CSA shares.
As seen in Figure 9, the most common barriers listed by respondents included lack of time, land, or resources and lack of knowledge about how to grow dry beans. Numerous other barriers were listed including worries about cost effectiveness, preference for fresh products amongst CSA members, labor-intensive harvesting and processing, impracticalities of working on a small scale, worries about quality, and worries about the ability to make a profit selling a labor-intensive crop that is not highly valued. Figure 10 illustrates the perceived barriers to marketing dry beans. Lack of consumer demand for local dry beans was the most common barrier to marketing dry beans listed by respondents.
CSA farmers would benefit from reducing the cost of processing beans. This could involve sharing their equipment, bringing beans to a centralized processor, or purchasing beans from a larger local producer to add to their shares. More research looking into the feasibility these options would be beneficial. CSA farmers would also benefit from a program that helps them market local organic beans to consumers.
Co-op Grocery Store Survey. This report is an analysis of a survey of co-op grocery stores in Minnesota. A grocery co-op is a collectively-owned store, generally focusing on providing organic and natural foods. The responses from co-ops were intended to help improve understanding of retail market channels. 11 responses were received from co-op managers and bulk buyers in Minnesota. All of the co-ops reported sourcing most or all of their beans through distributors. Three co-ops said that some of their beans were purchased from local farmers, but these beans represented a small percentage of their total purchasing. Co-op managers consistently reported that they chose their distributor because they were able to get a reliable product in the quantities that they required. All respondents who answered the question said that 100% of their beans are organic. Respondents were asked if they perceived any unmet market demand for local beans. Five respondents gave a definitive “yes”, one said that there could be, and three said “no.” Eight respondents said that they would be open to sourcing beans from local producers, but there were conditions that must be met. Farmers would need to be able to provide co-ops with a sufficient volume of beans to meet demand. Storage space is also limited. This means that farmers would need to be able to supply co-ops with these beans through regular small shipments. Depending on the location of the producers and the co-ops, transportation costs could become prohibitively expensive.
In addition, small producers may struggle to produce product that is price-competitive. Co-ops generally reported that customers may be willing to pay a premium for local product. However, the premiums customers are willing to pay for staple products, such as beans, are low. Seven respondents felt that there would be a demand for locally sourced heirloom beans, but only one co-op offered an heirloom blend.
Restaurant Survey. This report is an analysis of a survey of restaurant managers in the Twin Cities and in Greater Minnesota who actively procure and advertise the use of locally grown products. The responses from restaurant managers were intended to help improve understanding of direct-to-consumer market channels. 29 restaurants completed the survey. The survey included questions about use, qualities desired, amount purchased and varieties of edible dried beans used.
Respondents were asked to check all varieties of beans (market class and heirloom) that they purchased (Figure 11), as well as list any beans that were not listed. They were also asked to list what would cause them to purchase locally grown beans (Figure 12). Consistent supply was noted as a top factor for restaurants when considering increasing their purchasing of locally grown dried beans, followed by having a good price point, and being able to choose from a number of dried bean varieties.
Many restaurant managers in Minnesota who are focused on utilizing local ingredients incorporate dried beans into their menu items, but fewer of these source their dried beans from local growers. Roughly half of the managers surveyed used dried beans in their dishes every day, but only 10 out of 26 (38%) used locally grown dried beans.
Overall Conclusions. The results of these studies indicate there is room for more local production and sales of organic dry beans, but local farmers need to take key factors into account:
- Specialty heirloom varieties are of the most interest to multiple venues surveyed.
- Major challenges include: high equipment costs, low market value, and difficulty differentiating organically grown dried beans from conventional.
- Consistency of supply, adequate volume, purchasing price, and locating sources for local dried beans are issues for both co-ops and restaurants.
Future work. We are working with local chefs around the Twin Cities to evaluate the potential of heirloom dry beans in local restaurants. Culinary evaluations are currently underway at 5 local restaurants in order to examine nutritional and culinary components of organic dry beans. Participating chefs at these restaurants cook with an emphasis on high-quality, locally sourced food. This spring, we will be conducting the “Culinary Evaluation of Heirloom Dry Beans” trial to examine the basic culinary attributes of organic heirloom dry beans. It is also an extension of an effort to understand the local preferences and markets for dry beans. We intend to invite approximately seven chefs, and their respective restaurants, from the Twin Cities metro to participate in a varietal evaluation of six dry bean cultivars. Selected chefs would be responsible for the preparation, consumption, and evaluation of one-half pound of each cultivar. These cultivars have been subject to yield performance trials and are currently undergoing pureline selection improvement. We believe that they show potential in local restaurant and direct-sales markets, but need to better understand restaurant preferences for culinary attributes in dry beans.
We participated in regional conferences and field days to promote the work we are doing in organic legumes. Events in 2014 included:
- The Minnesota Organic Conference on January 10, 2014 in St. Cloud, MN. Dr. Tom Michaels, Dr. Craig Sheaffer, Hannah Swegarden (grad student), and Claire Flavin (grad student) presented on the dry bean weed control and rotation projects.
- Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service Organic Conference in LaCrosse, Wisconsin on March 1, 2014. Dr. Tom Michaels, Dr. Craig Sheaffer, Hannah Swegarden (grad student), and Claire Flavin (grad student) presented on the dry bean weed control and rotation projects.
- The Organic Field Day at the Lamberton Southwest Research and Outreach Center held on July 11, 2014. This organic field day is the largest in the state with about 100 participants. In 2014, the field tour featured the research plots from the dry bean field research.
- The NDSU Carrington Research Extension Center Annual Field Day on July 14, 2014. Graduate students Hannah Swegarden and Claire Flavin shared organic dry bean research results and gave research plot tours.
- Graduate students Claire Flavin and Hannah Swegarden presented research posters on organic edible beans during the Production Ag Symposium at the University of Minnesota, and presented a seminar to the What’s Up in Sustainable Agriculture series at the University of Minnesota.
- On-farm field day featuring organic dry beans held on September 19, 2014 in Madison, MN. Attendees toured on-farm plots from two of this project’s experiments.
We will be participating in many organic events again in 2015.
- Figure 8. Varieties of bean processed
- Figure 11. What varieties of dry bean do you purchase?
- Figure 1. Dry bean market class yields by small, medium & large size
- Figure 2. Rotation effect on wheat yield, SWROC 2014
- Figure 3. Rotation effects on wheat yield, Madison 2014
- Figure 5. Wheat yield response to N-rate, Madison 2014
- Figure 6. Rotation effect on weed biomass, Becker 2014
- Figure 7. Interaction effect on bean yield, SWROC 2014
- Figure 9 – Which of the following are barriers to growing dry bean?
- Figure 10. Which are barriers to marketing dry beans?
- Figure 12. Factors that make restaurants likely to buy dry beans
- Figure 4. Wheat yield response to N-rate, SWROC 2014
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
Many of our current experiments are wrapping up, and we are excited to begin compiling our story. Our field research will help us collaboratively develop recommendations that show benefits of organic edible legumes in cropping systems, including economic return, legume N contribution, and weed management. In addition to field research, our project has built a team of researchers, educators, producers, and others devoted to increasing the production and consumption of locally-grown organic edible legumes. The information gathered from this project will be incorporated into university publications and websites. The primary audience, besides producers, also includes marketers, retailers and consumers, who will gain knowledge on the benefits of organic edible legume nutrition and the advantages of purchasing local foods.
University of Minnesota
456 Alderman Hall
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St. Paul, MN 55108
Office Phone: 6126247711
University of Minnesota
411 Borlaug Hall
1991 Upper Buford Circle
St. Paul, MN 55108
Office Phone: 6126253148