Farmers profit by growing adzukis
DES MOINES -- A new kind of bean is sprouting profits for some Iowa farmers.
Farmers in Greene County started a project in 2001, growing adzuki beans for Japan and other countries willing to pay big bucks for the small, rust-colored legume.
The farmers, tired of low commodity prices, started the Greene Bean Project and they say this year will easily be their most profitable crop -- more than doubling the profit margin they saw with soybeans.
The group banded together to boost income through value-added agriculture, did some research and decided that raising and marketing specialty grains was the way to go.
The beans, usually grown in southern Asia and northern Japan, are packed with protein and natural sugars, and are commonly used in confectionary treats, made into dip and sweetmeats.
Chris Henning, the project's executive director, said three years after it started, the group is struggling to keep up with demand.
"I know I have more customers than beans," Henning said. "Production could double. It may be stretching it a bit, but I think we could sell them." The project has expanded throughout the state, and this year 32 farmers raised 700 acres of adzuki beans. The Greene Bean Project pre-sold 100 metric tons, or about half of this year's crop. There's a waiting list for the rest.
Mark Mueller, of rural Waverly, harvested 27 acres of adzuki beans last week, averaging 41 bushels per acre. The beans sold for 50 cents per pound.
After expenses and other costs, he expects his profit to be about 35 cents per pound.
His adzuki crop is expected to gross $23,275 or $862 an acre, compared to about $400 per acre for soybeans.
Mueller said adzuki beans also help him diversify his corn and soybean operation. "I wanted to get away from total reliance on two commodities," he said.
Adzuki beans are planted in early June and harvested in mid-September.
Production costs are about the same as soybeans and no special equipment is needed, but combines and trucks must be thoroughly cleaned to prevent mixing the bean varieties at harvest.
Despite the challenges, Mary Beth Zelle, of Waverly, said raising adzukis is worth it. She harvested 37 acres of the beans.
"I think we'll continue as long as the market stays up," Zelle said Mueller said he might double his adzuki acres next year. Four Japanese buyers visited his farm this year to meet a grower and see how the crop is raised.
"That impressed me. That tells me they want quality food," he said.