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Erin Brown / Grand Vale Creative

USMCA OK for dry beans, barley, officials say

Barley and dry edible beans don't get as much attention as wheat and soybeans. But barley and dry beans are important in the Upper Midwest — and both crops appear to have come out just fine under the new U.S-Mexico-Canada Agreement, industry officials.

"It appears to be positive for barley,' said Collin Waters, bureau chief of the Montana Wheat and Barley Committee.

Dry bean growers also apparently will benefit, said Tim Courneya, executive vice president of the Northarvest Bean Growers Association, based in Frazee, Minn.

"From what we can tell, we think it's going to be OK," Courneya said

But both cautioned that all the details of the agreement aren't yet known and that it still needs to be implemented.

The USMCA will replace the former North American Free Trade Agreement, which generally benefited U.S. dry bean and barley growers. Those growers were anxious for a new agreement.

Montana, North Dakota and Idaho dominate U.S. barley production, with the three states alternating in first, second and third place in any given year. Malt barley, used for beer, fetches much more than feed barley, which is fed to cattle. So U.S. barley growers have focused on developing and promoting sales to beermakers.

Mexico is a growing market for U.S. malt barley, as U.S. imports of Mexican beer continue to soar. Last year, beer accounted for 13 percent of Mexican ag imports to the United States, trailing only vegetables and fruit.

America's growing Latino population and "consumers looking for something new and different" are responsible for the increasing popularity of Mexican beer in the United States, Waters sad.

Most of imported Mexican beer is made with U.S. barley, or, more precisely, with malt made in the United States from U.S. barley and then transported to Mexico for use by beer companies there.

Mexico's malting capacity is limited, so beer makers there bring in U.S. malt. Transporting malt also can be less expensive than transporting malt barley, Waters said.

Malting barley can be grown successfully in parts of Mexico, but U.S. barley growers have competitive advantages in raising the crop and consequently Mexico beermakers likely will continue to rely heavily on U.S. malt, he said.

New sanitary and phytosanitary (which involve pest and pathogens) provisions in the USMCA also appear favorable to U.S. barley, Waters said.

Mexico is important to Upper Midwest dry bean farmers, too.

North Dakota leads the nation in dry bean production. Minnesota is a top dry bean producer as well, while Montana and South Dakota farmers also grow the crop. There are many types of dry beans, including pinto, navy and black. Some are sold on the open market, others grown on contract.

Typically, about 20 percent of annual U.S. dry bean production is exported. Mexico is the leading importer of U.S. dry beans, with black beans especially popular with Mexican consumers. As a result, black bean production in the Upper Midwest has been rising.

Nothing in the new USMCA appears to threaten U.S. dry bean growers, Courneya said

Though all the details of the new USMCA aren't know yet, "It's very good to have a new agreement in place," said Frayne Olson, North Dakota State University extension crops economist.

Maintaining U.S. ag exports to Canada, which is such an important trading partner, is particularly important given generally poor crop prices, Olson said.