Michigan is internationally known as an excellent supplier of high quality dry beans. The climate, with rich, well drained, loamy soil, moderate daytime temperatures, and cool evenings are suited for bean production. Our experienced growers, strategically located receiving stations and processing facilities ensure Michigan consistently meets the market demand for the best quality dry bean products. Over half of Michigan beans are exported throughout the world.
Michigan producers grow twelve classes of beans. The beans are planted in May and June. Cultivation keeps the bean fields weed-free, which reduces the need for chemical weed control. Cultivation also helps prepare the seedbed for efficient “pulling” of the bean plant at harvest. 12- 14 weeks after planting, bean plants reach their full height. Small flowers on the bean plant blossom once the plant is mature and pods form during August. The beans contained in the pods ripen during the summer. Growers constantly monitor their fields during the growing season for insect or disease problems, and to make sure that the crop is progressing as it should.
Beans are ready for harvest generally in September and early October. A large percentage of Michigan’s dry bean crop is “direct cut” – sometimes referred to as “clipped”. This method utilizes the same combine that our growers use to harvest corn, soybeans and wheat but only after making the necessary adjustments to properly care for dry beans. In addition, clipping allows growers to maintain the best possible quality and at times make some progress when field conditions are less than expected. Maintaining the best possible quality is always first and foremost on each and every growers mind.
Samples are taken from each load of beans, delivered to the receiving station or processor to check for quality including moisture content, color, foreign material and any other food safety factor. Each load is weighed before being moved into short term or long term storage.
A series of steps follows during processing: cleaning mills clean and size the beans by separating pods and other foreign material through a series of screens. Gravity separators use the density and weight of the product to guide inferior beans off one side of the separator, while the highest quality beans slide to the other side. Electric eye scanning devices ensure that foreign material is removed. Magnets and metal detectors are strategically located throughout the processing system to remove any metal that may have inadvertently become mixed with the beans. Finally beans are also run through a machine to remove stones. Beans are packed into 100 pound poly or paper bags, bulk totes of one and two tons, or bulk railcars for shipment to markets around the world. Michigan growers and processors employ the best methods and technology to ensure the consistent production of highest quality and safest beans.
Each processing facility subscribes to a food safety plan. These plans have become sophistcated and continue to evolve. Documentation is the backbone of each plan.
Not only have beans been a staple in man’s diet for thousands of years, they have shown up in some remarkable places. The Bible makes references to bean consumption. The Greeks held bean feasts to worship Apollo, the sun god, responsible for ripening the offerings of the earth. Beans have been found in pre-Colombian tombs and the pyramids of Egyptian pharaohs. Beans were even “tossed” by fortunetellers as a method of seeing the future.
Historians believe that ancient Peru and Mexico was the home of common beans. Over 7000 years ago they were domesticated and then slowly introduced to other parts of the world. With plenty of rainfall and long warm summers, North America presented an ideal climate for the cultivation of beans. Native Americans had technology for growing beans that was admired and adopted by the Pilgrims. They planted beans between cornrows, training the vines to grow up the tall corn stalks to reach the sun. Succotash is a Native American dish authentically made from corn and kidney beans. (Now lima beans are often used.) In parts of the world, the method of growing beans between rows of corn is still used.
By the 1880s, American bean production started to boom. Michigan was the center of bean growing, and the crop soon attracted new growers in Idaho, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Nebraska and Wyoming. American dry bean production grew during World War II to meet increased demand of use by American servicemen around the world. The demand held steady after the War as American food relief efforts improved. Today 14 states produce dry edible beans and Michigan is the top state in production of Black Beans, Cranberry Beans, and Small Red Beans.