A tough year for the bean crop

Zurich Bean Festival
Friday August 24 starting at 7 p.m.
Cruise night, midway and fireworks
Saturday August 25 – 7 a.m. to 1 a.m.
Pancake and sausage breakfast, midway, car show, beans and pork chop dinner, entertainment all day and dance starting at 9 p.m.

Cash crop farmer Randy Regier, now nearing 50, has been growing edible beans in the Zurich area for all of his life. Regier operates 9,000 to 10,000 acres of land, rotating wheat, corn, soybeans and white beans.

As told to Casey Lessard

It’s a family tradition right back to my grandfather. We’ve always been in the edible bean business. It’s always been a big part of our operations and that goes way back to the beginning.
As a young fellow, it was an exciting time to get up at 3 or 4 in the morning and sit on a tractor and help my father with this crop. There’s a lot of enjoyment and pride in this crop and with that we always need a reward.
Forty years ago, there were people who in a good year in a good market would sometimes grow 100 acres of edible beans and it would purchase that farm that year. Today, that could never happen.
There’s been a huge change in the land values versus the return on a per acre basis. Today’s land value is probably 50 times higher than it was 40 years ago, and the value of the edible bean is probably still at the same price. They were getting $25-$30 to the hundredweight, and today that value is still the same. The production cost is probably three to four times higher. That reflects the industry as a whole. You make it up through volume.
My grandfather grew probably 30 acres of edible beans. My father at the end of his time in the business was probably in the 1,000 to 2,000 acres a year. Between myself and my brothers, we are probably in the neighbourhood of 6,000 acres of beans.
When we harvest them, we do a rod pulling process, where a rotating rod slides under the ground. It just pulls the plant out or nips it off. Another machine splits the ripe pod – it has to be ripe and it has to be dry, so it’s in the mid-day harvesting – it separates the pod and the bean that’s inside away from each other. It’s collected through screenings and it goes into an elevator that takes it into a bin that collects only the bean itself. They thrash very easily once they’re dry.
This pulling process has to be done through the evening hours when they’re in a tough stage from the dews so that the pod is hard to crack. Then you need the heat of the day to crack the pods open.
Edible beans don’t like a lot of heat. If you go into the southern counties, where the heat units are a lot higher, that was a hindrance to this crop. In early spring or in the fall, the lake was a bit of a safeguard from frost. It keeps temperatures more moderated. I think that’s why it was started in this area and grew to a point where processing plants were established, and the industry has grown from there.
It’s a labour intensive crop. We’re always dealing with weed control. We have insects. Five, six or seven years ago, we never thought of leafhoppers. Now, leafhoppers are quite an issue in the edible bean industry. It’s not a major issue to control but it comes at another expense.
There’s always the concern of a frost in the spring that would mean a replant. And there’s always the possibility of an early frost that would hinder the plant from maturing and having a good quality bean.
This year, the drought has been very devastating on all the crops in this part of the country. The edible beans are no exception. The drought has slowed down growth because of the lack of moisture. If we have a lack of plant, we have a lack of availability of spots to flower and set pods. With the drought we can have poor pollination taking place. There is a point when the plant triggers a shutoff and aborts. With the drought they’re in a stress form and are aborting small pods to ensure survival of the plant.
I expect this year that yields will be probably 30 per cent off what we would normally have.
If you have zero bushels, it doesn’t matter what the price is. This year, this crop will probably not be a profitable crop. The market values are respectable but yields will be down. You take the good with the bad, and this year, with the drought, it will be a severe year economically.
The agricultural business has become not nearly as lucrative as it was in years gone by. For a lot of reasons, our expenses have continued to rise. Yields overall – with technology of different varieties – have increased some, but have not kept up with the pace of the expenses to operate these operations.
When we have a situation like this, it’s going to be more difficult to recover.
The effort that farmers put into putting a good quality product in front of the consumer is probably lost. There’s a lot of risk, a lot of hard work put into the quality the consumer wants and sometimes, because of Mother Nature, that quality is very hard to obtain. That comes at the expense of the producer. The consumer probably lacks education of really what the food chain is about in this day and age. Thirty to 50 years ago it was much more appreciated.
Farmers are stubborn, and I think we will carry on and try to produce this crop for many years to come.

The Bean Festival
A lot of people put a lot of work into making the Zurich Bean Festival a good event. I think it would be nice if the bean festival did what the London Rib Fest does, having a contest for different recipes. We have to change with the times and show people who come to the event all the new ways of displaying this product, and I think a competition would make it fun. There are a lot of different recipes that can be used to cook and serve beans and it would be good for the consumer to see there are many ways of enjoying beans. It would make the festival more of a bean event.
It’s amazing how many people over the years have come here for this festival. I’ve been far and wide, and you say you’re from Canada. “Okay…” You say Ontario. “Okay…” You say Zurich. “Okay…” But you mention the bean festival and it’s “OH!” It’s put Zurich on the map and we shouldn’t lose sight of that.