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Dry Edible Bean Profile
Updated February 2022
Globally, dry beans are the most important food legume. They are a staple food in many areas of the world but are an especially important component of the diets of those living in areas of Central and South America and Africa. Moreover, they are often the major source of protein and other important nutrients for those individuals that consume limited amounts of animal protein. In some countries in Africa dry bean consumption can be as high as 100 lbs per person per year. Originally domesticated in Central and South America over 7,000 years ago, dry beans moved northward through Mexico and then spread across the rest of North America. These beans were commonly grown with corn and sometimes squash. After the discovery of the Americas by Europeans, dry beans moved from the Americas to Europe and then to Africa and Asia. Currently, dry bean is an important agricultural crop in many countries, especially in those countries with high levels of consumption. The largest producing countries are Brazil, India, China, Burma and Mexico.
In the U.S., the commercial dry edible bean industry originated in New York in the mid-1800s. That state maintained its dominance in bean production until the early 1900s when Michigan became the leading producer. In 1991, North Dakota became the largest producer, a position it maintains currently. The U.S. is one of the world's leading dry bean exporters, with about 30% of the total production being exported annually.
The dry bean industry consists of many different classes of beans. The main classes are pinto, navy, black, Great Northern, red kidney, lima. Canary, pink, cranberry, lima, chickpeas and blackeye peas are other classes that are grown or marketed in the U.S. though at a much smaller scale. Lima, garbanzo and blackeye are actually developed from different species than the other classes listed.
Dry beans are grown in more than 30 states in the U.S. with commercial-scale production in 18 states. North Dakota, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Idaho are the top five producing states. Dry beans were planted on 1.39 million acres 2021. Production was estimated to be 22.7 million cwt in 2021, down from the previous year due to dry conditions in some producing regions.
The cost of dry bean production is greater than that for soybeans due to higher weed and disease control costs. Generally dry beans also require more fertilizer inputs than do soybeans. However, the potential market revenue for dry beans can be substantially greater than for soybeans in most marketing years. Dry beans may require two to three fungicide treatments to combat diseases and are prone to zinc deficiency. There are fewer herbicides available for use in dry beans compared to soybeans, so an integrated weed control program is important when planting them. Dry beans are frequently “knifed” and placed in windrows prior to combining which adds to the harvesting costs and requires a special header for the combine. They 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.
In 2020 the average price paid for dry beans was $29.90 per cwt, resulting in the harvested crop being valued at $1.0 billion. Dry beans are marketed by classes which are identified by the color and size of the beans. Generally, each class has a distinct end use. The five most important classes of beans grown in the U.S., Pinto, Navy, Great Northern, Red Kidney and Black, are genetic selections within the same species, Phaseolus vulgaris. The majority of beans are produced under contract though spot markets are available in the more traditional bean growing regions of the U.S. Contracts are particularly important for producers in regions where there is limited dry bean production as local elevators may not purchase them.
Quality issues can affect the final price paid, even when produced under contract. Price premiums and discounts are commonly used to help align what is produced with what is ultimately demanded by the processors. USDA quality specifications for dry beans include moisture content, broken seeds, uniformity of size, color and specification of foreign matter. These quality characteristics are easily measured at the elevator or the purchasing entity. 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 characteristic is not included in the USDA’s grading standard for beans, but can still be employed in the premium/discount structure. An elevator can also use an on-site canning lab to test the product for canning quality before selling to a canner. Canning quality can be affected by variety, timing of harvest and handling procedures.
Dry bean consumption in the United States has increased recently, and is currently at about 7.5 pounds per person per year with the biggest increases in consumption of pinto and black bean classes. 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 currently account for a significant percentage of cooked bean consumption. The rate of export of beans has been relatively stable to down slightly for the past decade. Mexico is the largest importer of dry beans produced in the U.S. Beans are often included in food donations provided to other countries by the U.S. government. With the recent trend in the U.S. to consume less animal protein, dry bean consumption may see additional demand, either directly or for use in meat-like products. The wide variety of beans available, each with its own unique characteristics, offer versatile ingredients that can be used in many types 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. Furthermore, beans are considered healthy because they are high in complex carbohydrates, protein, dietary fiber and folate, and are low in fat, sodium, are cholesterol-free and rich in vitamins and minerals. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend that adults consume three cups of cooked dry beans a week.
Beans are an excellent, nonfat source of protein, with one cup providing as much as 16 grams of protein. They are also high in complex carbohydrates, with one cup providing 40 to 48 grams of carbohydrates. These carbohydrates have a low to moderate glycemic index which is beneficial for those striving to maintain blood glucose levels. 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 and provide “roughage” that helps in digestion and reduces the risk of some types of cancer.
Folate in beans 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 and 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 requirement. Dry beans, particularly black beans, have also been found to be good source of anti-oxidants that may provide health benefits similar to some common fruits.
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Dry Beans, Economic Research Service (ERS), USDA.
Quick Stats, UDSA National Agricultural Statistics Service.
Factors Affecting Dry Bean Consumption in the United States, 2000, Vegetables and Specialties Situation and Outlook, ERS, USDA.
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Americans Consumed Almost 12 Pounds of Legumes per Person in 2017, 2019, USDA ERS.
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Dry Beans, 2014, University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service.
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