Pinto Beans on the Farm

We are growing edible beans as a substitute for soybeans in our field crops rotation. Last season, the Field Crops team planted a variety of dry beans including navy, black turtle and pinto.

Pinto Beans on the Farm

Here at the farm, we are growing edible beans as a substitute for soybeans in our field crops rotation. Last season, the Field Crops team planted and harvested a variety of dry beans including navy, black turtle, and pinto beans. Among them, pinto beans were the most widely grown and also performed the best. 

Windrowing the pinto beans at the farm. Photo by Jay Goldmark.

“The pintos were less weedy, so we planted more in volume–plus they seemed to perform well,” says Jay Goldmark, the fields crops production manager. “We’re looking to substitute edible beans for food in the crop rotation in place of soybeans destined for livestock feed.”  

Planted with the same equipment we use for corn and soy, pinto beans take an estimated four months to grow. The harvest involves a multistep process. As a “dry bean” (beans produced in pods and members of the legume family), the plant has to be dry in order to go through the combine. There are several techniques for drying beans including running an undercutter just below the ground, which cuts the stems from the root structure, thus killing and drying down the plant. Another method is windrowing the beans, letting them dry in rows, and picking them up later with the combine. 

After the harvest, the beans are cleaned. This involves running them through a standard grain cleaner called a “clipper” with various sized screens that filter out dirt, stems, stones, and other debris. Beans are then sorted, eliminating those that are cracked or too small. Finally, they are stored in sacks. Once dried to below 14 percent moisture, the beans should keep for at least a year in storage.

The magic of dry beans is the simplicity they offer as a food source. 

Pinto beans are a staple food in Mexico and in most Central and South American countries. In Mexico, for example, they are often are mashed and refried and used to fill burritos. The Spanish term frijoles pintos (painted beans) is befitting as it describes their mottled skin, which transforms into a light red when cooked. 

The Farm Hub is looking forward to expanding the quantity and varieties of dry beans grown on the farm this year. Farm Manager Eddie Clevenger is optimistic. “Dry beans used to be part of a normal crop rotation, but over time they’ve been replaced by soybeans and other crops that are less risky and that involved less processing. They can be a challenge, especially when it comes to moisture, but we are enthusiastic about working to grow beans without synthetic inputs and within the context of the Farm Hub’s efforts to reduce tillage,” he says.

Update: In late May we planted more dry beans in response to the increased food donation demands related to the COVID-19 crisis.  The beans include pinto beans and  black turtle beans. All of the dry beans from the 2019 harvest have been donated.

–Amy Wu