SE Montana bean crop escaped May hail damage

2014-07-01T00:00:00Z 2014-07-11T15:36:05Z SE Montana bean crop escaped May hail damageBy TOM HOWARD thoward@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

It didn’t take insurance adjusters long to tally millions of dollars in hail damage to roofs, siding, windows and automobiles in the Billings area after the May 18 hail storm.

Assessing hail damage to area crops has taken a little longer to quantify. Sugar beets, wheat and corn suffered when hail the size of golf balls pounded southeastern Montana. While crops suffered setbacks, some of the acreage didn’t require replanting. Agriculture experts estimated that the storm damaged about 3,000 acres of sugar beets, or some 12 percent of the acreage destined for the Billings sugar plant, between Billings and Hardin.

But in farming, timing can spell the difference between success and disaster, especially where weather is concerned.

Bean farmers in southeastern Montana dodged a bullet, and millions of hailstones, during the May storm.

“The good news was that the bean crop hadn’t come up yet,” said Thor Lindshield, crop adviser for Yellowstone Bean Co., which operates bean elevators in Bridger and Terry, as well as a plant in Manderson, Wyo. Yellowstone Bean Co. is a wholly owned subsidiary of Russell E. Womack Inc., a food processor based in Lubbock, Texas. The Bridger plant employs 11 people.

Lindshield said Yellowstone Bean Co. prides itself in providing a premium product.

“The bright white color of our pinto beans is what people like to see on the shelf,” he said.

According to the United States Dry Bean Council, each American eats about 7.5 pounds of beans per year. Pinto beans, which are used frequently in Mexican food, are the most popular variety, followed by navy beans and great northerns.

Increasingly, nutritionists are promoting beans as a health food. The bean council reports that a diet rich in beans helps people control their blood pressure.

Much of Yellowstone Bean Co.’s production ends up being sold at the world’s largest retailer, Wal-Mart, under the Casserole brand.

Pinto beans aren’t the only legume being raised in Montana. Three years ago, farmers began shipping black beans to Yellowstone Bean Co.’s Terry facility. In recent years Montana farmers have been planting more lentils as a cash crop and to build soil fertility without artificial fertilizer.

Any farmer worth his salt plans out his crops based on what will make the most money.

The drought that gripped the Midwest in 2012 sent corn prices soaring. But more favorable weather and a better crop in 2013 caused corn prices to tumble by 33 percent over the past 12 months.

“When corn prices go down, you see more beans going in. The price of corn is often a deciding factor in how many acres (of beans) are planted,” Lindshield said.

Beans also play an essential role in crop rotation. Because they are legumes, they fix nitrogen into the soil, reducing the need for nitrogen fertilizer to grow other cops like corn and barley.

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