Green Beans Put the Black Back in Budgets

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It’s been more than 15 years since Illinois farmer Steve Turner has grown green beans on his sandy, irrigated soil, but this year opportunity came knocking. While he hadn’t planted the legume in more than a decade, he’s always keeping an ear open for the opportunity.

“It’s a high-return, high-risk crop there’s no doubt about it,” Turner says.

Green beans are harvested in June and can be double cropped to green beans again or to soybeans. For Turner, it’s a $100 per acre minimum benefit over corn or soybeans.

Secure the contract

For farmers who can grow green beans, they need to make sure they have a contract in-hand before getting started. Because green beans have a shorter season, it’s possible you can get a contract to grow them on the same acre twice in a single year.

The nearest green bean canning facility to Turner is in Wisconsin — about 315 miles away. He can’t just drive around his local area to see who needs green bean acres, it takes more planning and communication.

“I stay in touch over the winter and early spring just to see if they have acres available,” Turner says. “I don’t get mad when they don’t have acres, but I want them to know I’m interested without becoming a pest.”

In addition, several of his neighbors grow green beans for the company and provided good recommendations for him. Ultimately this year, Del Monte reached out and asked him to grow 140 acres of green beans. They require irrigation for production, and he must be able to plant and have them harvest when Del Monte requests it.

Diversification precautions

A diversified business has both pros and cons, while it can add financial cushion in tough years, it can also be a farm’s downfall if not properly researched. Carefully weigh your options and consider both best- and worst-case scenarios before investing.

“Examine and document the risks and benefits of the project,” says Moe Russell, president of Russell Consulting group. “The dangers to watch for in diversifying are: Don’t get into a business you don’t know much about unless you can learn in a very steep learning curve, and be willing and able to hire talent and experience you don’t have.”

  1. Do your homework. Consider the potential return on investment and the downside risk if the project doesn’t go as planned.
  2. Talk to others. Identify neighbors or others who have taken this kind of risk — learn from their experience. You could go in with a leg-up or know to avoid an opportunity altogether.
  3. Have an exit strategy. Not every opportunity will work out, and you should know how to get out quickly if it turns south. Depending on the business, this could include outsourcing labor to run the project, alternate uses for inputs or liquidation.

For Turner, diversification is old hat. He not only farms corn, wheat and soybeans, he added popcorn several years ago. When opportunity knocks, it can pay to answer.