Dry bean crop again short; promotion set

California's dry edible bean crop for 2000 is forecast at 2 million hundredweight, or 18 percent less than 1999, on 112,000 harvested acres, according to a survey done the first week in December by the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

The forecast is only the latest word in a saga of unstable conditions for the dry bean industry's growers and warehousemen. It also makes for tough estimating of assessment income for production research projects of the California Dry Bean Advisory Board in Dinuba.

Sources at the board say dry bean crops in recent years have fluctuated as never before. "Prior to 1998, California bean growers had not produced less than 2.336 million, 100-pound sacks of beans in the 25 year the Advisory Board had been tracking the production," says the "Bean Marketer," the board's newsletter.

The 1998 crop, with the El Nino weather, came in at 1.743 million sacks, or 35 percent short of the five-year average.

As the newsletter points out, it wasn't that the crop was rained out that year, rather its after-effects kept growers out of fields until it was too late to produce a normal-sized crop.

Rallied in 1999 California growers rallied in 1999 to produce a crop of 2.548 million sacks. Even though that crop was considered normal, prices were lower than expected for several varieties.

Among the specific reasons were a big crop of blackeyes in Texas depressing prices, competition in kidneys from other states, and short California purchases of baby limas by Japanese buyers who shopped in other states.

As a result, coming into 2000, growers, watching a carryover of more than 430,000 sacks of blackeyes, produced just short of 295,000 sacks. In the preceding quarter-century California growers have never produced less than 500,000 sacks of that variety and usually brought in 700,000.

Meanwhile, the board's promotion committee is beating its drum in consumer markets following a report in May from USDA's Economic Research Service.

Only the month before release of the report, the board decided to move some promotion funds into food service because consumer promotion had long been the emphasis.

But the USDA report said more than 75 percent of all dry beans are purchased at retail stores and most of the sales are in southern and western states. In response, the board recharged the retail outreach and is sending out leaflets to supermarkets in those regions.

Not to be left behind, the board also announced its Web site: calbean.com. It's being assembled under, of course, a Jack and the Beanstalk theme to tell more about nutrition and preparation of baby and large limas, garbanzos, blackeyes, dark red and light red kidneys, and several other varieties.

Cilantro industry news The expanding cilantro industry has encountered a new disease, according to a newsletter item from Franklin Laemmlen, county director and vegetable/pest management farm advisor for Santa Barbara County.

Samples brought in recently had pale yellow spots about 1/8-inch across, several per leaf. No microorganism could be found, but Laemmlen said his colleagues have found virus particles with the same symptoms.

More research is under way at the University of California, Davis, to identify the cause. He said the symptoms have occurred in several growing areas in a short time, suggesting the virus may be seedborne. UC specialists are also following up on that.

California has 3,500 to 4,000 acres of cilantro, also known as coriander and Chinese parsley. Laemmlen noted that as more acreage is planted in new growing areas, there's more opportunity for microorganisms to reach the crop.

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