Dry beans are legumes grown to the mature stage, allowed to dry, and harvested for the seed within the pods. Most U.S. dry beans are produced for human consumption. Dry beans are an important staple crop and are also used as animal feed in other parts of the world.
With 6 percent of world output, the United States is the sixth-leading producer of dry edible beans. About 20 percent of U.S. dry bean supplies are destined for the export market, while imports make up about 14 percent of domestic dry bean consumption.
According to the 2007 Census of Agriculture, 6,236 U.S. farms produced dry edible beans (excluding dry lima beans) on 1.46 million acres, 24 percent of which was under irrigation. More than a fourth of that irrigated land was in Nebraska. North Dakota produced the most dry beans, 38 percent of the national output, in 2006-08. Michigan (14 percent), Nebraska (11 percent), Minnesota (10 percent), and Idaho (7 percent) were among the top five States. The average farm value of the dry bean crop was $759 million in 2006-08, with about $2 billion in estimated consumer sales.
The United States produces many kinds of dry edible beans, but the leading varieties for 2006-08 were the following:
- Pinto--42 percent
- Navy (pea)--17 percent
- Black--11 percent
- Great Northern--5 percent
- Garbanzo (large chickpeas)--5 percent
Other varieties include light red kidney, dark red kidney, large lima, baby lima, pink, small red, cranberry, blackeye (cowpeas), small chickpeas, and small white. These cover the specific varieties for which USDA publishes production statistics, but there are many other specialized varieties produced in smaller quantities. USDA groups smaller bean crops as "miscellaneous," such as yellow eye, fava (horse or broad beans), mung, adzuki, marrow, appaloosa, Christmas lima, anasazi, and blackgram beans (important in India).
Americans use dry edible beans in many ways and sometimes use different varieties in similar ways. All varieties are available dry in consumer or foodservice packages. Canned products include refried beans, soups, chilis, and baked beans. High-starch bean flour from dry beans is used in a variety of baked goods. Restaurant use of dry beans and bean products has likely increased in importance, especially for establishments serving serving Mexican, Tex-Mex, or Cal-Mex dishes.
Low-cost dry beans provide vitamins, minerals, soluble dietary fiber, and protein. The leading source of vegetable protein, dry edible beans are an excellent food buy in cost per gram of protein. A serving of dry beans is rich in B-vitamins, iron, calcium, potassium, phosphorous, and is low in sodium and calories.
On any given day, nearly 14 percent of the U.S. population eat dry edible beans. Dry beans enjoy the greatest popularity in the West and the South. About three-fourths of all dry beans are purchased at retail stores for home consumption. For more information, see Factors Affecting Dry Bean Consumption in the United States (April 2000).
After peaking during 1941-43 at 9.6 pounds per person, 3-year average dry bean disappearance has largely remained between 6 and 8 pounds per person, but has stayed below 8 pounds since the early 1960s. Over the past 40 years, per capita disappearance of dry beans reached a low of 5.5 pounds during 1978-80, and then trended upward to a peak of 7.7 pounds during 1992-94. Per capita use of dry beans averaged 6.5 pounds during 2006-08, down 12 percent from 1996-98 but unchanged from 1986-88.
Estimated annual per capita use of dry beans declined for 5 consecutive years (2000-04), across most bean classes. Consumption of white beans (i.e., navy, Great Northern, lima, and small white) has declined each decade since the 1960s and now amounts to less than half of what it was in the 1960s. Until weakening in the 2000s, disappearance of nonwhite beans had increased each decade since the 1960s.
Dry beans have not been included in Federal price support programs since the late 1960s. However, the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 (2008 Farm Act) includes large chickpeas (also considered to be a dry pea crop) in such programs as marketing assistance loans, loan deficiency payments, and counter-cyclical payments. See the Policy page for more information. In addition, USDA regularly buys dry pack and canned beans for school lunch, child nutrition, and other feeding programs.
New York was the birthplace of the U.S. commercial, dry edible bean industry in the mid-1800s. Now a minor growing State, New York remained the leading producer until the early 1900s when Michigan took the lead. Michigan's dominance was largely unchallenged until the 1990s. Strong, steady gains in the North Dakota dry bean industry during the 1980s propelled it into the lead for the first time in 1991, where the State has stayed, with the exception of 1993.
The top dry-bean producing States in 2006-08 were the following:
- North Dakota--38 percent
- Michigan--14 percent
- Nebraska--11 percent
- Minnesota--10 percent
- Idaho--7 percent
- California--4 percent
- Washington--4 percent
- Colorado--3 percent
North Dakota's dry bean industry is relatively young (firmly established only in the early 1960s), compared with the mature Michigan industry. North Dakota's bean production was just 0.4 million hundredweight (cwt) in 1970 (2 percent of the U.S. crop), but with steadily increasing acreage and yields, output surged to a record high of 10.8 million cwt in 2007. In contrast, Michigan's crop was just 0.8 million cwt in 2001, the lowest on record in that State (largely because of weather-reduced yields).
According to the 2007 Census of Agriculture, 1,682 farms produced dry edible beans in North Dakota on 664,389 acres, with most of these acres in pinto beans (70 percent) and navy beans (17 percent). North Dakota is the leading producer of both pinto beans (62 percent of the U.S. crop) and navy beans (42 percent of the national total). The majority of the crop is produced in the fertile Red River Valley, with Pembina, Walsh, and Grand Forks Counties the top producers. About 2 percent of the State's dry bean crop is produced under irrigation.
The second-leading producer of dry beans in the nation, Michigan, averaged 14 percent of the U.S. total during 2006-08. Black beans (45 percent of the State's crop) and navy beans (34 percent) dominate the State's dry bean output, but Michigan also produces many other bean classes such as cranberry, kidney, small red, and pinto beans. Michigan is the leading producer of black beans, with 58 percent of U.S. output and is the second-leading producer of navy beans, with 29 percent of the crop. Dry beans were produced on 1,183 Michigan farms in 2007 (down 25 percent from 2002), with the majority growing less than 100 acres of dry beans. The Saginaw Valley and the Bay Thumb area in central and east central Michigan produce most of the beans. Huron County is the leading producer, accounting for more than 40 percent of the State's crop.
Nebraska, third in dry bean production, accounted for 11 percent of the U.S. crop during 2006-08. Grown on 495 farms in 2007 (down 35 percent from 2002), 97 percent of the State's dry bean acreage is irrigated. Great Northern beans account for 42 percent of Nebraska's bean crop, with the State accounting for the vast majority of the U.S. Great Northern crop. Pinto beans make up 44 percent of Nebraska's dry bean output, with smaller amounts of light red kidney, black, and other beans. Production is scattered across 26 counties, with several northwestern counties in the North Platte River Valley of the Panhandle accounting for the largest share of the crop.
Minnesota, the fourth-leading producer, accounts for 10 percent of the U.S. crop. Commercial production of dry beans took hold in the mid-1960s at the same time neighboring North Dakota's industry began to develop. Grown on 526 farms in 2007 (21 percent lower than in 2002), about one-fifth of the State's dry bean acreage is irrigated. Navy (40 percent of State output), dark red kidney (23 percent), pinto (11 percent), and black (10 percent) beans account for the majority of the State's production. Minnesota is the leading producer of dark red kidney beans, with 70 percent of national output. Production is scattered across 41 counties with the largest concentration of acreage in the Red River Valley. Polk (37 percent), Marshall (9 percent), Otter Tail (6 percent), and Hubbard (6 percent) counties are the top four producers.
Idaho rounds out the top five producing States, with 7 percent of the national dry bean crop in 2006-08. According to the 2007 Census, 641 farms in 19 counties produced dry beans in Idaho, 16 percent fewer farms than in 2002. Although Idaho's dry bean crop is diversified among most classes, pinto beans (35 percent of State output), large chickpeas (23 percent), small red beans (8 percent), and pink beans (8 percent) are the leading bean classes produced in the State. The largest concentration of dry beans is located in the Magic Valley of southern Idaho. The leading counties are Twin Falls (29 percent), Nez Perce (13 percent), and Jerome (12 percent).
California is the sixth-leading producer of dry beans, producing about 5 percent of the U.S. crop in 2006-08. California's climate is favorable for most types of dry beans, with a wide variety produced annually. However, four bean classes dominate (accounting for 86 percent of output). These include baby limas (27 percent of California's crop), large limas (25 percent), blackeye peas/beans (21 percent), and garbanzo beans (large chickpeas) (13 percent). In 2007, 239 California farms grew dry beans. Production is widespread, with Stanislaus (18 percent), San Joaquin (14 percent), and Sutter (12 percent) counties the major producers. Production in the State has been trending lower, with the 2008 crop a record low.
The U.S. dry bean industry is mechanized, relatively efficient, and produces quality products. During the first 9 years of the 2000s, an average of 19 percent of the U.S. dry bean supply was exported annually, unchanged from the average in the 1990s. As it has for decades, the United States experienced a dry bean trade surplus in crop year 2007/08 (September-August). The surplus (excluding guar and other seed trade) amounted to $131 million, up from $96 million in 2006/07.
Leading export varieties in 2007/08 were pinto (27 percent of dry bean export volume), navy (pea) beans (19 percent), black beans (12 percent), Great Northern (9 percent), and garbanzo beans (6 percent). U.S. dry bean exports consist of commercial exports and U.S. food aid (direct donations and concessional programs). By volume shares, the top five foreign destinations for U.S. dry beans in 2007/08 were Mexico (24 percent), Canada (12 percent), the United Kingdom (11 percent), Angola (5 percent), and the Dominican Republic (5 percent). With domestic disappearance between 6 and 7 pounds per person annually, dry beans are not a staple in the United States. Given the slowdown in domestic dry bean demand since the early 2000s, growth in the industry over the next several years may depend on increased foreign sales.
Until this decade, the United States had not imported large volumes of dry beans. Prior to 2001, imports consistently accounted for only 4-6 percent of domestic consumption. However, U.S. dry bean import volume (excluding guar and other seed) jumped nearly threefold between 1996-98 and 2006-08. The value of dry bean imports totaled a record-high $141 million in 2007/08, up 42 percent from a year earlier. Import volume also reached a record high of 322 million pounds (up 16 percent from a year earlier).
Imports now account for about 17 percent of dry bean consumption. Aside from notable volumes for black beans, mung beans, and chickpeas, imports are largely spread out in smaller volumes over several classes. During the 2000s, imports have satisfied 20 percent of domestic black bean consumption.
About half of U.S. dry bean import volume originates in cross-border trade with Canada and Mexico. However, China has become the second leading supplier of dry beans to the United States, accounting for 23 percent of volume in 2007/08, up from 10 percent a decade earlier. Black beans (40 percent of volume) and mung beans (26 percent) accounted for the majority of imports from China in 2007/08. Imports of garbanzo beans, which come from Mexico (37 percent of volume in 2007/08), Canada (30 percent), and Turkey (12 percent), account for about a fourth of the domestic use of garbanzo beans and about 11 percent of all dry bean imports.