CLEAR LAKE, Minn. – East central Minnesota received some much needed rain in mid-August, two shots that measured 0.8-inch each, which were enough to turn off the irrigators temporarily.

Moisture in the sandy soil didn’t last long, though. The cornfields needed the irrigators back on during the last days of August, said a tired Ryan Peterson on Labor Day, Sept. 2.

He reported that the Peterson crew successfully moved Bono Hybrid Rye bales off fields in late August. Then, cover crop seed and potash were spread on the fields and disked in. He expected the cover crop would germinate and emerge quickly.

The Petersons started harvesting dark red kidney beans on Sept. 2 – a little over three days after the birth of Ryan and Whitney’s son, Bentley, on Aug. 29. Two brothers, Hunter, 10, and Weston, 6, welcomed Bentley who weighed 7 pounds, 10 ounces, and measured 19 inches long at birth.

“Everybody’s good,” said Ryan. He had the boys with him outside as he gave this phone interview. The baby and Whitney were doing well inside the house, he said.

There were some long, but happy days ahead with the new baby and kidney bean harvest.

Ryan or his dad, Alan, uses a Pickett One Step machine for cutting and windrowing the kidney beans in a single operation. Cutting is usually started at 2-3 a.m., while there is dew on the plants. They windrow about 40 acres per day.

Combining begins between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., and ends before nightfall.

They check frequently to make sure the combine is correctly removing the beans from the pods. Throughout the harvest, Ryan takes harvested samples of 100 kidney beans. He runs them under their hottest tap water for one minute and lays them out on the counter. He then checks carefully for any cracks in the skin. If there are more than six beans with cracks, which equals 6 percent, the combine must be stopped and adjusted to reduce cracking or damage.

All of the kidney beans are loaded into semi-trailers and hauled to Chippewa Valley in Menomonie, Wis., the day after combining. It’s a 130-mile-trip southeast on I-94.

“We really like dealing with Chippewa Valley, because they dry kidney beans,” Ryan said. “We can combine them easier because they are wetter so we don’t crack them. They dry them to what they want, so they get a better quality bean.”

Kidney beans are transported by belts, conveyors, ladders or stairs rather than by augers, he added, to minimize damage for the food product.

The Peterson crew for kidney bean harvest includes just four men – Ryan, Alan, Ryan’s brother, Nick, and Alan’s uncle, Bob. Nick and Bob often set out to drive to Chippewa Valley in the early morning. Ryan wants empty trucks back to the farm by noon or 1 p.m., for loading and hauling to Menomonie the next morning.

While the semi-trucks are away, Alan and Ryan do cattle chores and work around the farm before afternoon combining.

The Petersons have another interesting project in cooperation with the local Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) – trying to grow Kernza.

It’s always a challenge to come up with a plan for the dryland corners of irrigated fields. The Petersons planted sorghum Sudan grass during the spring 2019 to keep the corners clean. They baled that up as cattle feed roughage.

Then SWCD technicians planted Kernza in late August. The grain can be used to make bread or beer, and the perennial crop can grow two or three years without tillage.

“It’s supposed to produce a heavy root mass that goes down 10-12 feet and pulls nitrates out of the ground,” Ryan said. “We’re hoping to bale it for roughage for beef cows. It’s something new we’re trying here.

“The SWCD is happy to get some of these programs going,” he continued. “They’re looking for fields to do these programs on. This is dry land for me that I don’t have to mess with keeping the weeds down.”

With harvest and a new baby, Ryan didn’t expect he or Whitney would get a lot of sleep for a few weeks. They are young, though, and know they could make this work with their nice new baby.

“I’ll be able to help, piecing in here and there,” Ryan said. “I think the weather is helping us not push too hard. If it rains, we’ll hold off another day. I’ll be there helping too.”

0913 Peterson windrowing.jpg – Dark red kidney beans are windrowed while the dew is still on the plants. Photo by Nick Peterson.

0913 Peterson combining.jpg – Dark red kidney bean harvest. Photo by Nick Peterson.

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