Bean Growing Practices

Dry Beans are much less susceptible to pesticide residues because they are shelled out of their dry pods during harvesting. They must be re-hydrated and boiled to consume which reduces the chance of systemic residues.

Below is a letter from Zursun owner Jim Soran:

Thank you for your interest in our products. My companies Zursun Idaho Heirloom Beans and Soranco Bean Products Inc. do not actually “grow” or maintain farms to produce the beans we process, package and distribute. However, we do work directly and personally with many farmers who grow and produce these specifically for us. We receive their beans in the fall in a raw state and we perform the cleaning, milling and sorting to get them into the best possible condition for sale to the public.

We handle some seeds used to produce some varieties. Some varieties are grown in other states such as California, Washington, Oregon, Michigan, and Nebraska. With regard to any chemicals used in the production cycle I can only speak to the beans grown here in the Magic Valley of Southern Idaho. However, dry edible beans use far fewer agents in their production than many other crops.

Dry beans are included in many online resource listings comparing foods grown organically versus non-organically. Beans and other legumes, fall into the class of the “Top 20 products that you don’t “Have” to buy organically”. This is because the actual “seed” matures inside the pods of the plants and not in the soil. The pod provides protection unlike flowering seed plants.

There are three main areas where chemicals are used, one being fertilizers to promote vigorous plant health, herbicides to destroy weed plants that would choke and kill the bean plants, and pesticides to control insects that may feed on the bean plants during the growing season.

Typical fertilizer used is a combination of powered phosphates and nitrogen, with some potash and many growers also used animal manure from local dairy operations because it is prevalent and inexpensive. These are applied well before planting time, tilled into the soil and water is applied to balance out the levels.

Herbicides are also applied before planting to the soil and are specific in targeting certain weeds. Beans are planted several weeks later and from that point on weeds are controlled by cultivating where a tractor pulling a cultivating attachment moves through the bean rows and cuts and pulls any weeds from the soil. The typical brand names of these agents are, Sonalan, Eptam, Sevin, and Colmite.

Usage of any agents is never mandatory but completely dependent upon individual grower practices and decisions regarding their unique field conditions and makeup. Growers never wish to add more input costs to their production by applying chemicals. It comes down to a decision of how best to promote good yields, weighing the cost of a possible solution against the cost of overall reduced yields due as a result of excess weeds or the occasional pest.

Additionally, in the case of pesticides, any use of these products is the exception not the rule. The actual percentages of pest incidence are very low, especially in the Western most bean growing states of Idaho and Washington. There are of course many insects that may attack beans plants. Most are aphid or mites that feed on the plant damaging its’ vigor and ability to produce mature seeds. Only the most serious outbreaks are typically treated with airborne sprays, when the potential insect damage costs are far greater than the application costs.

Once an infestation takes hold it’s usually too late to stop. The control of these types of insects is also managed by the rotation and placement of different crops relative to their attractiveness by the insect. Alfalfa is the first choice of these pests as a food source but after the first cutting of Alfalfa they may move into bean fields. Weather also has an impact on the proliferation of pests. Prolonged freezing temperatures during the winter can significantly reduce the degree of outbreaks the following summer growing season. Should airborne pesticides be employed the agents are dispensed as a fog and act upon the pests and dissipate quickly into the surrounding air. The actual bean seeds are protected in the pods from direct contact with the chemicals, and the chemicals become inert soon after exposure to open air.

Some people have expressed deep and great concern over the use of Roundup to kill post-harvest weeds and plant growth. I share this concern but please be aware this practiced has never been used at all on dry edible beans. This method is employed with Soybean production to be used in processed foods only. We do not purchase, grow, package or sell soybeans.

I am not a botanist or an agronomist or anything of the sort, so I cannot comment on any possible trace amounts or residues that may be absorbed and present in the mature bean. This would of course require a scientific chemical analysis. There is likely to be some information available on the web. I referenced a document from the EPA which discusses the use and effects of Eptam. This report described residuals left behind, found that any measureable amounts were less than, 5 one hundredths parts per million.(<0.05 ppm) For all intents and purposes this amounts to non-detectable or zero.

I cannot say whether this applies to the other possible agents that are used but for myself I’ve been around beans and bean farms all my life. I am now 66 and my Mother lived to be 97. My three older sisters all are in great health. My Father died at 77 of Pancreatic cancer from unknown causes. I have never heard of any illnesses ascribed to beans and lentils grown using the typical chemicals we see. I realize that my experience is not proof that some damage may still be present at a molecular level. Nevertheless, I believe there are many more worrisome concerns related to the overall quality of our air, water, non-organic fruits and vegetables containing water, and specifically processed foods.

All of our bean and lentil seeds have been developed using standard plant breeding methods of single plant selection and mating to achieve more disease resistant plants with strong yield potential and of course the color and shape that is desired. This is genetic modification at the plant variety level and has been in use as for as long as agriculture has been practiced on the earth.

Genetic modification performed in laboratories at the DNA molecular level, is most commonly known and described using the acronym “GMO”. In truth, this cellular gene work is more correctly described as “genetic engineering using modern biotechnology”.

The statement of “NON-GMO” is not an honest representation of the practice, but rather a dumb-downed thinking and decision-making shortcut label.

The true statement applicable to products of this type is: “not genetically engineered using modern biotechnology” That statement requires some actual knowledge and a reasoned thought process by individuals wanting to avoid those type of foods. Marketing people decided to use “NON-GMO” as the handle for these processes.

Virtually all modern dry edible bean varieties have been genetically modified using plant breeding methods. However, the dry bean industry does not and has never practiced “genetic engineering using modern biotechnology”. This is not the case with Soybean production to be used in processed foods. We do not grow, purchase, package or handle any soybeans in our operations.

Obviously a completely organic growing method would be more comforting. The costs to the grower to grow organically are very high and to make it work they must choose specific crops that they know they can sell. Heirloom varieties are produced in such small quantities it is not possible to have them grown organically without taking very strong and risky financial positions on crops that may or may not have a market. Growers require fixed contracts to be paid no matter the circumstance, whether they get a crop or not. The pressure can only be managed by using conventional growing methods where we have more choices of growers to work with and the grower has better potential for good yields per acre.

I hope this helps you understand a little more about bean production and allay any possible trepidation you may have concerning trace chemical carryover. If you are of a mind that any amount is unacceptable, then I would recommend you seek out strictly organically grown products.

Good health to you and yours.

Sincerely, Jim Soran