[EDITOR’S NOTE – Our Ag Finance column comes to us monthly from Farm Credit. This month, our ag finance editor Rhonda L. Uzzolino, Marketing Manager, AgSouth Farm Credit asked Clemson University Extension expert Tony Melton to write about overlooked opportunities in the field. We welcome your questions about ag finance – just address them to firstname.lastname@example.org and look for the answers here.]
Nothing says “Southern” more than a big pot of butterbeans or peas.
At one time Lake City, S.C. was considered the “Bean Capital of the World.” Bushels and bushels of snapbeans were loaded onto rail cars and shipped to all the large northern cities. This is why Lake City is the home of the National Historic Bean Market Museum.
The Bean Market Museum is a true gem in the Pee Dee of S.C. Not only do the folks at the Bean Market Museum preserve the past of how beans were marketed, sold, and shipped but they also encourage the future of the Pee Dee through community development and tourism.
Today, the Lake City area and the surrounding counties are still the bean capital of S.C. but now instead of snapbeans, butterbeans and peas have become the fresh market kings. Snapbeans are still being grown in the area but mostly for processing (canning and freezing). However, low processor pricing and the difficulty of production has limited the number of acres grown. In fact, all beans are difficult to grow in S.C’s. heat and humidity.
When night temperatures stay above 75 degrees the flowers of beans do not pollinate properly, do not “set pods” and drop off the plant. This dropping of the flowers reduces yields and limits the bean production season to early spring and again in the fall for S.C. What happens is that you can have a beautiful plant that is flowering-up-a-storm but never sets pods.
It has surprised me that the demand for fresh butterbeans has remained high even in our fast-food society. So in many years the demand far outweighs our production. Therefore, at my research area at Pee Dee Research & Education Center in Florence, S.C., I am screening over 100 lines selected from the 15 most popular butterbean varieties for heat tolerance. Hopefully in a few years we may have some heat tolerant varieties, but in the meantime many growers outsource in mid-summer and purchase butterbeans from other Southern-but-a-little-cooler butterbean-loving states such as Tennessee and Virginia.
Also, many growers have compensated for flower-drop in beans by switching to the production of southern peas in mid-summer. Peas love the heat, tolerate drought, and grow well with low fertility making them the perfect S.C. crop.
However, the problem with fresh market peas is that they can be difficult to pick with mechanical harvesters. Some varieties like “Top Pick” and others are much easier to pick but most folks in S.C. demand the “Dixie Lee” variety because of its flavor, small seed size, and brown pot liquor (soup).
“Dixie Lee” is a vining variety making it difficult to pick with machines, but if grown on low fertility soil, with no fertilizer inputs, and no/little irrigation sometimes one can limit the plant size improving mechanical harvest. However, this practice also reduces per acre yields, but most growers have sorry-almost-good-for-nothing fields that can still make good pea land.
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