Farmer Focus: Dry beans are lucrative when harvested correctly

We have had a cool, wet autumn where I farm in South Africa. The wet weather has made harvesting soya beans a challenge but it is good for my cover crops. 

I recently finished my soya so now I can turn my attention to dry beans (pinto beans). Harvesting dry beans can be a challenge, but if done correctly it can be very lucrative. 

See also: Spring beans outperform oilseed rape on heavy Essex land

You get many varieties of beans. The older types don’t stand very well, with a high percentage of their pods on the ground, which is disastrous if you get late rain. 

Many pods will rot and many of the individual beans will discolour from water stain. Fortunately, I grow a variety that stands, although that is a bit of a misnomer as many of the pods still touch the ground. 

Harvesting by hand

Planting was about two weeks later than I would have liked, but this has turned out to be a good thing as the beans were still green when conditions were very wet. 

Now that the weather has dried off, my beans are ready to harvest, which is an interesting exercise. I don’t grow enough to warrant a windrowing machine, so I windrow them by hand. 

Unemployment is very high in South Africa so it is possible to get a team of about 80 people to pull the beans. 

The plants have a very weak root system and are pulled out of the ground and placed in a windrow. A combine then picks up the rows to thresh the beans. 

As the beans are very susceptible to splitting, it is better to avoid augers and if one must use an auger, then run it slowly. 

The beans are sieved and sorted, then packed into 4kg bags for retail. Large portions of these bags are transparent, making every blemish noticeable, so it is imperative to have a high quality product.

Bruce Shepherd farms in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. He plants 500ha of rain-fed summer crops across 3,000ha. He also runs 2,600 weaner oxen on pastures, finishing them in a feedlot with maize grown on the farm.