Comparing the Profitability of Soybeans and Dry Edible Beans

The number of acres of soybean planted in Ontario has been as high as 3 million in recent years, because of strong prices and development of high yielding varieties suited for Ontario’s different growing regions. In comparison, we have relatively few acres of dry edible beans (around 130,000 ac total) even though dry beans have a high profit potential.

So why don’t more cash crop farmers grow dry beans? Let’s have a look at the cost of production and profitability of soybeans and dry beans, as well as some of the differences in management of the two crops.

What type of dry beans should a soybean grower try? The small seeded types or “market classes” are probably the best option. White (navy) beans and black beans are similar in size to soybeans, and adzuki are a bit smaller. These small seeded beans can be planted and harvested with the same equipment used for soybeans, whereas larger beans like kidney and cranberry (Romano) are harvested with specialized equipment for pulling and windrowing bean plants, followed by combining.

IP soybean, white bean, black bean and adzuki bean

What is the profit potential of soybean vs. small seeded dry beans?

Below is a table comparing the cost of production of the different small seeded bean types to IP soybeans. The yield and profit (based on prices at the time of this article) are also outlined. A range of potential yields are given, and a range of potential profits per acre is also given.

IP soybean white bean black bean adzuki bean
Cost of Production $275/ac $410 $410 $410
Yield 45 bu/ac 55 bu/ac 2172 lb/ac 3032 lb/ac 2058 lb/ac 3289 lb/ac 1600 lb/ac 2400 lb/ac
Price $13.50 /bu $0.3306 /lb $0.3256 /lb $0.50 /lb
Profit     per ac $335 $465 $310   $590 $260   $660 $390    $790
*Cost of production values are taken from OMAFRA Publication 60 Field Crop Budgets. These values do not include the cost of land rent. The cost of production for adzuki are not included in the Field Crops Budget at this time, but are assumed to be similar to costs for white and black beans. Yield ranges are taken from Ontario performance data.

As you can see, at the lower end of the yield ranges, adzuki beans appear to be the most profitable but the other 3 bean types have a fairly similar profit per acre. Without the premium for IP soybeans, the profitability of an average or low yielding GM soybean crop would be the least profitable – on paper, anyway. There are, of course, other factors to consider such as the amount of field work required for dry beans.

If growers are able to achieve higher yields, the table shows that the 3 types of dry edible beans can be significantly more profitable than IP soybeans. On highly productive soils where growers are able to produce yields well ab0ve the provincial average for soybean, a good quality crop of white, black or adzuki beans can be a bigger money-maker. In addition, the earlier harvest of dry edible beans gives an opportunity to plant winter wheat in a timely fashion and many growers report excellent winter wheat results following dry beans.

Other production facts about dry beans:

  • Dry beans are managed more intensely than soybean. A good dry bean grower may be out in the field every other week scouting for symptoms of disease or stress, applying foliar sprays, cultivating for weed control, or tracking maturity to ensure the harvested beans are high quality and suitable for consumers who value visual appeal.
  • Dry edible bean fields are typically tilled. Very few growers use a no-till system, as no-till systems can make it difficult to achieve good emergence and, in some cases, good weed control. Inter-row cultivation is also used in many cases to control weeds, because herbicide options are limited in dry beans.
  • Application of some nitrogen is common in dry beans, as is multiple fungicide applications to prevent white mould and anthracnose. Desiccants are applied where beans are direct harvested, to dry any green tissue and control weeds for ease of harvest and to keep beans free from green staining.
  • In Ontario, nearly all dry edible beans are grown on contract. Bean dealers will provide information on management and which pesticides are acceptable for the end use market, and may also offer custom services for field work, including harvesting.

 What field qualities do I need for planting dry edible beans?

  •  Good drainage is very important
  • Well-rotated ground with good soil structure (no heavy clay soils)
  • Corn and cereals as previous crops for weed control, alfalfa for soil structure
  • Low levels (less than 3000 eggs/100g of soil) of soybean cyst nematode (SCN) for adzuki beans

Key Messages

  •  Dry edible beans can provide a high return
  • Consider growing white, black or adzuki beans on well-drained fields that have been ideal for high soybean yields
  • If you typically produce average or below average soybean yields, growing dry edible beans may be too high of a risk