Dry Edible Bean Profile

By Sara Schumacher and Michael Boland, Kansas State University.

Updated September 2011 by Diane Huntrods, AgMRC, Iowa State University.


Dry edible beans (Phaseolus vulgaris) are grown in more than 30 states with commercial-scale production in 18 states. North Dakota again ranked as the top producer of dry beans in 2010. Michigan, Nebraska, Minnesota and Idaho rounded out the top five states. U.S. production of dry beans totaled 31.8 million cwt in 2010 (NASS 2011). Although one of the world's leading dry bean exporters, the United States is also increasing its import of certain dry beans.


Originally domesticated in Central and South America over 7,000 years ago, dry beans moved northward through Mexico and spread across most of the United States. These beans were commonly grown with corn and sometimes squash.

The commercial, dry edible bean industry originated in New York in the mid-1800s. The state maintained its dominance until the early 1900s when Michigan became the leading producer. Michigan prevailed until the 1990s, when North Dakota acquired the lead in 1991. Since then, the state has, for the most part, retained its position as the top-ranking producer of dry edible beans in the United States.


Dry bean consumption in the United States has rallied since 2005, reaching 6.3 pounds in 2008. Pinto beans are by far the most widely consumed type; the U.S. population consumed 2.7 pounds of pinto beans per person in 2008. That same year, Americans ate 0.9 pound of navy beans, 0.7 pound of black beans and 0.6 pound of red kidney beans (ERS 2009). Dry bean consumption may be on the upswing due to increased public recognition of possible health benefits of beans and to the increase in the Latino population, which consumes more beans on average than the population at large.

The major uses of dry beans include dry packaged beans for home use, canned beans (both whole beans and otherwise), brine-packed whole beans and bean flour for commercial baking. Supermarkets sell bagged dry beans and canned products such as refried beans, soups, chili and baked beans. Restaurants use dry edible beans in foods such as tacos, burritos and chili. Restaurants and the fast food market accounted for a significant percentage of cooked bean consumption (ERS 2000).


Producers usually grow dry beans under contract with a processor (elevator) (ARS 1989). From the producer's perspective, the motive for contracting is to address price risk, rather than quality issues. Quality issues tend to be addressed by “informal” means, such as communicating standards to growers and payment of bonuses.

In most producing regions, processing is highly concentrated relative to production (ARS 1989). In general, the bean producers and processors are not vertically integrated. Elevators sell to second level domestic users, brokers and export markets. Domestic users (for example, canners) use both contracts and spot markets for purchasing beans. A high level of interaction and coordination is required to communicate what product is needed and to agree upon a price, which is a very subjective process. Individual buyer’s quality specifications are not included in a formal contract, rather they are handled by communicating desired standards, monitoring and by the seller’s desire to maintain its reputation as a high-quality producer. Elevators have developed education programs to show farmers what types of products to grow and offer premiums for high-quality beans. Elevator managers have found that education programs are more effective than production contracts in obtaining nonstandard goods because a contract alone does not guarantee quality. Even though the dry edible bean market is complex and has subjective marketing specifications, the use of spot markets and marketing contracts have effectively coordinated the buying and selling of nonstandard dry beans.


More than 1.9 million acres of dry beans were planted in 2010, the third consecutive year that planted acreage has increased. With an average price of $26 per cwt, down $4 from the previous year, the 2010 harvest was valued at $838.5 million.

Four states produced 69 percent of the total dry bean output in 2010. North Dakota produced 11.5 million cwt or 35 percent of the total crop. Michigan produced 4.2 million cwt, Nebraska 3.2 million cwt and Minnesota 3.1 million cwt (NASS 2011).

The dry edible bean industry consists of many different types of beans, including pinto, navy, black, Great Northern, red kidney, lima and blackeye. In 2010, North Dakota was again the largest producer of pinto and navy beans. Michigan was the largest producer of black beans, followed by North Dakota, and the second largest producer of navy beans. Minnesota was the largest producer of kidney beans and the third largest producer of navy beans. Nebraska was the top producer of Great Northern beans and the second largest producer of pinto beans.  (NASS 2011)

Beans are a high-cost, irrigated crop compared to sunflowers and wheat. Beans require two to three fungicide treatments to combat disease, are prone to iron deficiency, leave little crop residue to inhibit postharvest erosion and require irrigation. Multiple irrigation applications may also lead to the fungus problem. Beans are an excellent crop to grow in rotation with grain and root crops. Wheat, corn, barley, soybeans and sugar beets are the most common crops grown in rotation with dry beans (ERS 2000).


Producers typically market their beans by contracting with an elevator, the first level of processing where beans are sorted, cleaned, graded and packed for transport. At the second level of processing, beans are treated quite differently, depending on the intended final use. At this level, beans are further processed as in cooked and canned, preserved in brine, ground into flour or dry bagged for later use. Depending on the end use, the bean type and seed coat quality requirements differ across processors.

USDA quality specifications for dry edible beans include moisture content, broken seeds, uniformity of size, color and specification of foreign matter. These quality characteristics are easily measured by an elevator and bean canner. Depending on the intended use of beans, quality requirements differ with respect to seed coat integrity. For beans used in canning, it is important that beans have few seedcoat “checks,” or breaks, because these checks can cause the bean to burst, leading to a mushy, less desirable product. This seed coat characteristic is not included in the USDA’s grading standard for beans. Seedcoat checks are designed to identify small breaks in the seedcoat that are difficult to locate and not an objective measure of quality. An elevator can also use an on-site canning lab to test the product for canning quality before selling to a canner. Producers have a great deal of control over canning quality that is affected by variety, timing of harvest and handling procedures.

Health Benefits

The wide variety of beans available, each with its own unique characteristics, offer versatile ingredients that can be used in virtually any type of cooking. Beans are one of the most nutritionally complete foods available. They are an inexpensive source of both complex carbohydrates and protein and provide iron, magnesium, zinc, potassium and soluble fiber in high amounts. Beans are considered healthy because they are high in complex carbohydrates, high in protein, high in dietary fiber, high in folate, low in fat, low in sodium, cholesterol-free and rich in vitamins and minerals.

Beans are an excellent, nonfat source of protein, with one cup providing as much as 16 grams of protein. Adults generally need to eat between 50 to 60 grams of protein a day. Protein is needed to repair muscle and bone tissue. It also fights infections, helps heal wounds and regulates enzymes and hormones.

Beans are high in complex carbohydrates, with one cup providing 40 to 48 grams of carbohydrates, which is 15 percent of the carbohydrates needed daily. The carbohydrates they provide have a low to moderate glycemic index, which means they have the ability to provide energy over a longer period of time (compared to simple carbohydrates) by being slowly released into your bloodstream to provided sustained energy.

Being a source of both soluble and insoluble fiber, beans can help reduce the risk of some types of cancer and lower risk factors associated with the development of cardiovascular disease. Soluble fiber forms a gel-like substance, which helps the body handle fats, cholesterol and carbohydrates and plays a role in lowering blood cholesterol levels. Insoluble fiber provides “roughage” that helps in digestions and can reduce the risk of some types of cancer.

Folate is needed in the diet for proper cell division and overall good health. Folate has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke and certain types of cancer. It has also been shown to improve glucose control in diabetics. Studies have shown that folate may also help reduce the risk of certain birth defects. Eating one cup of cooked dry beans provides, on average, 264 micrograms of folate, which is 66 percent of the recommended dietary allowance.


The United States shipped more than 8.9 million cwt of dry beans, a slight increase from the previous year, to 102 nations in 2010. Mexico, Canada and the United Kingdom (UK) remained the top three destinations, accounting for 50 percent of dry bean exports. The volume shipped to Canada rose by double digits (38%) while the volume shipped to Mexico and to the UK dropped by double digits (-23% and -10% respectively).  (ERS 2011)

The most frequently exported dry beans were (in order) black, navy and pinto beans. Of these three classes, only the volume of navy beans increased. A record 1.9 million cwt were exported, up 26 percent from 2009. Black bean exports were down 5 percent and pinto bean exports were down 17 percent.  (ERS 2011)


Dry bean imports into the United States dropped to 2.7 million cwt in 2010, down 11 percent from the previous year. China, Canada and Mexico remained the top three suppliers of dry beans, together accounting for 74 percent of U.S. imports. China provided 28 percent of all dry bean imports, with black and mung beans dominating, and Canada provided 27 percent of dry bean imports, with black and pinto beans dominating. Black beans were the leading import class by volume, accounting for 16 percent of dry bean imports.  (ERS 2011)


U.S. dry bean prices continue to climb in reaction to a small 2011 crop, strong prices for other field crops and moderate demand. U.S. dry bean production is estimated at 19.6 million cwt, down 38 percent from a year earlier and the smallest crop since the 2004 crop. Although yield is projected to be up 1 percent to 17.4 bags, harvested area for the 2011 dry bean crop is currently expected to be 1.1 million acres, the lowest since 1921.


Dry Beans, Economic Research Service (ERS), USDA.

Dry Edible Beans, Vegetables and Melons Outlook, ERS, USDA, 2011.

Dry Edible Beans, Crop Production Annual Summary, National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), USDA, 2011.

Dry Edible Beans, Crop Values Annual Summary, NASS, USDA, 2011.

Dry Edible Beans, Statistics by Subject, National Agricultural Statistics Service, NASS, USDA.

Factors Affecting Dry Bean Consumption in the United States, Vegetables and Specialties Situation and Outlook, ERS, USDA, 2000.

Fruit and Vegetable Market News, Ag Marketing Service, USDA.

Global Agricultural Trade System (GATS), Foreign Ag Service, USDA, 2010.

Profile written October 2005 and updated September 2011. Links checked November 2013.