Memorial Day rain brightens outlook for area's beans

Rain over Memorial Day weekend brought the promise of a better season than many local bean farmers have seen in recent years.

The storms brought 1.26 inches of rain to the Southwestern Colorado Research Center in Yellow Jacket, said Abdel Berrada, director of the center.

"It's very timely for both beans and winter wheat," he said.

Agricultural data released in early May show that dry bean crops - particularly in Dolores County - took a big hit during the 2012 drought.

Only 3,869 acres of dry beans were harvested across 21 farms in Dolores County during 2012. However, the number of acres planted in the county was about 7,000 acres, said Paul White, county executive director for the Farm Service Agency.

During 2012, farmers in Montezuma County harvested 5,500 acres of dry beans on 33 farms. This was fairly comparable to 2007, when farmers harvested 6,618 acres.

The 2013 bean season looked promising until the late rain and hail damaged many crops, White said. Census data is not available for 2013.

Watch the Plains states

Adding to the optimism is recent high demand for beans. Last year, even lower-quality beans were worth $30 per 100 pounds, said Berrada. For some, this meant a gross income of $150 per acre last year, White said.

The price of beans is driven in part by the nationwide price of corn and other commodities. When the price of corn is high, growers in the Dakotas and other areas tend not to plant as many acres of beans, driving down the supply and in turn driving up the price, said Bob Bragg, a local farm consultant. The annual average price of corn has trended down since 2012, when it was $6.89 a bushel. In 2013, the average was $4.65.

Falling production

Colorado only accounts for 5 percent of bean production across the nation.

While not as pronounced locally, Colorado has seen a continuous decline in bean production, falling from about 117,000 harvested acres in 1997 to about 43,000 acres in 2012, according to the census data.

Colorado State University researcher Howard Schwartz predicts that production should stabilize around 50,000 acres, about a third of what it was 50 to 60 years ago.

He attributes the decline to the loss of water to urbanization in certain areas and low market prices compared with other crops.

"Those that are still in it are doing an above average job on their production," he said.