Green Bean: Alternative Crops for Greene County (and Iowa)

Mary Holz-Clause, P&S, Value Added Agriculture


In 2001 a group of corn and soybean farmers from the Greene County Iowa County were looking for ways to diversify their cropping options. The Greene County Extension Director, Craig Hertel, crop field specialist, and Iowa State University (ISU) Extension Value-Added ag specialists, Ray Hansen, Margaret Smith, Reg Clause and Mary Holz-Clause worked with the farmers to explore crops that could be grown within the county, but would not require any new or specialized harvesting equipment. The initial group was 24 commodity farmers. We assisted the farmers in group development, including how to cost-share, pool resources, set up production breakeven documentation and to mitigate risk. We also assisted field staff in setting up test plots and finding markets. The last several years, staff have helped in agronomic issues and marketing assistance. In addition to the direct assistance, members of the group have also attended several continuing educational events sponsored by Value-Added Ag. These included the Grant Writing 101 and Marketing Your Business workshops.


The objective of this project was to find an alternative crop that provided income greater than raising corn and soybeans and used the same tillage equipment.


Since 2001 more than 90 growers have been involved with a total value exceeding close to $4 million. The crop acres have included azuki, garbanzo, black bean, black and brown soy, high protein non-GMO soy, mung, cranberry beans, green edamame, garbanzo and snap beans. Trials have included sunflowers (grey and black), pinto, navy, northern, kintoke, black soy with green centers, lima and kidney beans.
The beans have been directly marketed to supermarkets, farmer’s markets, a processor near Des Moines for quick freezing, wholesalers for domestic markets and a growing export market. More than 200 tons of black beans have been sold to contract customers.

The two years have yielded several large export contracts. More than 90 metric tons of azuki beans were exported to Japan. Azuki beans are used to make "anko," a popular confectionery ingredient in Japan, where they are cooked with sugar and mashed into a sweet bean paste used in everything from ice cream sandwiches to doughnut filling.

The group has made several trips to Tokyo in the last several years and Greene Bean Project leaders negotiated to sell azuki beans to a Japanese importer. Several Japanese buyers are also interested in Greene Bean Project’s production, and are requesting an acreage contract for increased production in 2006.


According to Kevin Nishimura, one of the buyers of the Greene Bean azuki beans, the biggest supplies of azuki beans to Japan come from China. The Japanese customers are looking for supplies of beans that ensure safety and traceability. "The Greene Bean azuki from the U.S. fits that bill, because of their interest and capability to grow organic beans and provide a traceable system."

Every year since the project was started, the acreage of azuki beans has grown and now includes producers in seven other counties across the state of Iowa.

121 - Adding Value and Enhancing Agricultural Products

Page last updated: July 9, 2006
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