The nation’s largest farmer-owned cooperative plans to increase its storage capacity by 35% and nearly triple throughput at its edible dry bean processing plant in Othello, Wash., the company has announced.
CHS will add 50,000 square feet of warehouse space, a new bean cleaning line, and a fully automated processing line to lower its overall production costs and better support demand that grew during the COVID-19 pandemic, plant general manager Chris Guess said.
“The majority of the reason (for the upgrade) was just that the plant was old,” Guess told Farm Press. “We seem to have more of an interest from local producers to put dry bean crops in. It’s a great rotation, and consumer demand seems to be increasing year over year. We really wanted to ensure we’re getting more efficient with the product we handle.”
The project is set to be completed by December, a spokeswoman said. The cost was not disclosed.
Built in the 1950s, the plant processes, packages and distributes 10 varieties of dry edible beans produced by the region’s growers. Beans from the facility are marketed under the CHS brand, including the El Mejor Frejol brand, sold in bulk or packaged under private labels for other food brands, according to the cooperative.
CHS, a global agribusiness owned by farmers, ranchers and cooperatives across the United States, delivers 14 varieties of dry edible beans to markets in California and Central and South America, its website explained.
Since 2018, the Othello plant has returned $2.1 million in cash patronage and equity to the farmer-owners who deliver beans there, the cooperative noted in a release.
A specialty crop in West
The USDA estimated the nationwide dry bean acreage for 2020 at 1.59 million acres, up 23% from 2019. While the bulk of the acreage was in the Midwest and Northern Plains, plantings anticipated for 2020 included 65,000 acres in Idaho, 53,000 in Colorado, 32,000 in California, 31,000 in Washington and 27,000 in Wyoming, according to the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service.
“The overall dry bean industry is pretty small; it is a specialty crop in the West,” Guess said. “It’s mainly a rotation crop. The overall production fluctuates as does the value per acre; it does compete with corn, timothy and wheat. Just because of our growing conditions, we really have a wide variety of crops we can put in in Washington.”
Considering consumer trends toward plant-based proteins and foods with a longer shelf life, Guess expects the growth in dry edible bean acreage and popularity will continue.
“A lot of people are more health-conscious today, and it’s a great source of fiber and protein,” he said. “I see the trend continuing as people look for healthier options and less meat-based diets.”