GERING, Neb. – From the latest research on direct harvest of pinto beans to the outlook for the coming year, the information was coming fast and furious Tuesday during the 2019 Nebraska Dry Bean Day at the Civic Center in Gering.
Cindi Allen, assistant Secretary of State and former, three-term member of the Nebraska Dry Bean Commission, told the group of recent overseas trips where she found the potential is there for new markets for Nebraska-grown beans.
“In the Secretary of State’s office, I’m not letting them forget about beans,” she said.
One part of her trip included a visit to Tanzania with an international food aid group, where she witnessed first-hand the effects of malnutrition and learned dry edible beans could be a solution to the problem. A primary emergency food source in areas where malnutrition runs rampant is a flour made of a mix of corn and soy. But it doesn’t solve the major problem of stunted growth, which affects people even after they’re grown.
“We talked about the use of bean flour,” Allen said. “Helping them to understand the super-food dry beans actually are and what it could add.”
Rather than a short-term solution to a problem, the corn-soy flour mixture becomes a food staple in Tanzania and many other relief areas around the world. The group also talked about incorporating Nebraska-grown dry edible beans into school lunch programs, where the protein and other attributes of beans could have the most benefit, she said.
“Today, 200 million people are in need of food assistance in Yemen,” Allen said. “I learned they’re looking for white beans, importing 10 to 15 metric tons of white beans per month to feed people in Yemen and they have yet to hear from the United States.”
She told the growers they could look on the World Food Program website (www1.wfp.org) and get more information about becoming part of the program.
Great northern beans, another staple crop in the Panhandle, are “a fantastic bean to grow in this area,” said John Sperl, a marketing specialist with New Alliance Bean and Grain Co. “European buyers love the great northerns we produce.”
But, as both production increases and markets widen, food safety becomes a vital issue to consider, Kevin Kelley from Kelley Bean told the crowd.
“Geopolitics are really affecting us as an industry,” Kelley said. “They have more affect than anyone in this room can do.
“Food safety starts in the field. That’s what customers around the world are demanding right now.”
Dry edible beans, once treated as any other grain crop as far as initial processing, have come to be looked at as an ingredient. Kelley Bean and other processors are no longer looked at as grain elevators, they are food processing plants, which impacts the way the products are handled from harvest to consumer.
“In the Tri-State Region, the bean industry is a great place to be,” Kelley said. “One thing I do know – it’s our job to feed the world.”
Keynote speaker for the event was Nebraska Director of Agriculture Steve Wellman, who filled attendees in on the work going on in Lincoln and around the world. Agriculture, regardless of where it’s happening in the state, is the heart and soul of Nebraska, he said.
“To me, if it affects agriculture, it affects everyone in the state,” Wellman said. “And international trade is key.”
As director of one of the 18 “code agencies” in the state, Wellman was tapped by Gov. Pete Ricketts to take the lead in drafting agriculture policy, focused on Ricketts’ primary vision, to “Grow Nebraska.
“It started four years ago,” Wellman said. “And it’s continuing on in its second term. I serve at the pleasure of the governor, but I work for the Nebraska agriculture growers and ranchers.”
Part of that vision is the cooperation between departments on projects that benefit the state. Wellman pointed to an ongoing project to build a poultry processing plant near Fremont, Neb., as one such cooperative effort.
And there’s room for many more, he said.
“We’re really having some in-depth discussions on innovations in the state, including agriculture,” Wellman said. “What can we do to draw investment to Nebraska and add value to Nebraska agriculture?”
Wellman pointed to a change in the 2018 Farm Bill – the implementation of which was delayed by the federal government shutdown in December but which is now back on track. Legal changes were made to authorize the production of industrial hemp, separating it from marijuana, its cousin which is still illegal in many parts of the country.
There aren’t a lot of acres of hemp in Nebraska, outside research greenhouses, Wellman said. But a proposed resolution in the Unicameral would change the state statute to come in line with federal regulations and allow hemp to be grown in Nebraska.
His department would be in charge of regulation for hemp growers, including where crops can be grown, licensing growers – including background checks – and sampling of the crops prior to harvest to be sure the levels of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, are below 0.3 percent.
“In short, there’s a lot of work to be done yet before we’ll have a viable program to grow industrial hemp in Nebraska,” Wellman said. “But I think we will get it through the Unicameral at some point.”
Wellman also updated the crowd on the ongoing trade talks with China, seeking resolutions to current trade barriers. Getting a foot back in the door in China and the rest of the Asian market for Nebraska products – including dry edible beans – is important, he said.
“All we’re asking for is access to the market place,” Wellman said. “We’ll compete with anybody.
“I know our growers can out-grow, can out produce, anybody in the world. All we want is access to the market.”