It’s the middle of June and a fleet of green bean harvesting machinery is working central Arkansas fields. Today, they’re harvesting Mark Luebke’s 70 acres in eastern Pulaski County.
As with other crops, the green beans are late. “We were about 10 days late planting,” says Luebke, who has grown green beans for a decade. “All that early spring rain kept us out of the field. Green beans are usually about a 58-day crop for us.”
The green bean crop is tied to the canning/processing industry. The largest processor in Arkansas is Allen Canning out of Siloam Springs, Ark.
“Green beans are grown all over the United States under contract,” says Craig Andersen, Arkansas Extension horticulture specialist. “The harvest starts way in the south and moves north. The harvest window right now is around Scott, Ark.
“Green beans are a pretty fast crop, usually 54 to 57 days, depending on heat units. There are some historic diseases — both fungal and bacterial — a couple of viruses that could show up. But we seem able to manage them without any big problems.”
Most of the crop goes to canning. However, some eastern Arkansas green beans are grown for freezing.
The green bean industry has been largely stable for years, says Andersen. “The contractors stick with a large family of growers. I know some growers have been working with Allen Canning for generations. Those are strong relationships.”
Like others growing green beans, Luebke has his acreage under contract. “The seed is provided to us. When we settle up, all that is calculated. The people we contract with usually provide the recommendations for management.
“We have about 330 acres of rice, 1,200 acres of soybeans, 70 acres of green beans, 280 acres of corn, and 160 acres of wheat.”
What does a typical green bean season look like?
“Usually, you start planting the first of April,” says Luebke. “We used to put out a pre-emerge herbicide like Dual. Usually, we then have to go back in with a grass and broadleaf material. So, we’ve gotten to where we don’t worry much about the preplant herbicide.
“So, we plant them and cultivate them a couple of times. We pull the middles right before lay-by with a center-furrow plow. That means they water a lot easier.”
The bean field receives a preplant fertilizer and another mid-season shot of ammonium sulfate. Barring a herbicide treatment and irrigation, “we watch them closely and wait for harvest.”
This year, Luebke had to irrigate twice. “You don’t want them to slow down in 90-degree weather. And you’ve got to be very careful watering green beans. They can’t stand more than about 10 hours at a time.”
A typical yield is from 3 tons to 5 tons per acre.
“We rotate the beans around the farm. Last year, we had 85 acres.” Usually, Arkansas row-crop farmers will grow green beans on 100 acres, or less.
“If they’re using a pivot, they’ll grow just one pivot worth,” says Andersen. “Bigger acreage probably wouldn’t work. The canners and processors have to calculate their plant capacity. So the harvest needs to be staggered and all the logistics must be considered. The acreage needed in a given area is tied to all that.”
Green beans require “a specialized type of growing and they aren’t for everyone,” says Andersen. “The crop is so fast, there’s little margin for error. It’s hard to recover from a mistake. That means growers must pay very close attention to detail.”