It's a Murphy's Law kind of year for Michigan agriculture, almost as if Mother Nature is embracing a burst of creativity in how to mess with farmers. After weeks of increasingly dire drought conditions, recent rains across the southern Lower Peninsula have been too little, too late for corn; a blessing for soybeans; and a suffocating threat to dry, edible beans.
"There's a lot of concern from every angle," says Bob Green, executive director of the Michigan Bean Commission. "We had some areas with 10 inches of rain over last weekend-those areas have some real problems. Other areas saw less rain but are still kind of waterlogged."
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) latest dry bean data was rosy on the surface, rating almost 80% of Michigan dry bean fields in good or excellent condition. But recent rains are drowning bean fields from Edmore to Fairgrove.
According to Jay Johnson, director of the USDA's National Agriculture Statistics Service Michigan Field Office, the state's dry bean production was set to exceed 3.49 million hundredweight, a small increase over last year's total.
The agency's next update is unlikely to be as sunny.
In Bryan Hadeway's part of Tuscola County, near Fairgrove, they saw just more than five inches of rain, and it's done a number on many of his family's navy and black bean fields.
"First we were awful dry, now we're awful wet," he says. "A lot of them are pretty much dead," although it varies significantly from one field to the next, depending largely on how well the soil drains.
"They're definitely not the crop we were looking at a couple weeks ago. They were looking really good," Haddeway says. "Time will tell."
Bean Commission Researcher Greg Varner has been monitoring bean fields across the state and predicts substantial losses—40 to 60% in certain areas, he estimates.
Only those areas previously suffering the worst drought are now reporting healthy stands of dry beans.
"What's surprising to me is that the areas with the most rain were also the areas that were getting pretty good rain all along," Varner says. "Where they got hit the hardest was where there were the best-yielding beans."
In a normal year, Michigan produces more dry beans than any state besides North Dakota, and is the top producer of black, cranberry and small red beans.
Planting in Michigan this year began in late May and continued through late June. Farmers here planted 70,000 acres of navy beans, 90,000 acres of black beans and just less than 19,000 acres of small red beans. Several other varieties are also planted—cranberry, kidney, yellow-eye, pinto, great northern—but in far smaller acreages.
Nationwide dry bean production estimates increased dramatically this year—up 36 percent from last year at 27 million hundredweight. Planted area is up 42 percent to 1.71 million acres, and the forecast of 1.67 million acres harvested represents a 45 percent increase over 2011. The average United States yield is forecast at 1,614 pounds per acre, down 102 pounds from 2011.