GRANGEVILLE, Idaho — Toilet paper isn’t the only thing being whisked off the grocery store shelves these days.
Ever since the coronavirus pandemic settled in, agriculture producers have experienced a bean boom as consumers stock up on dry beans, peas, lentils and chickpeas.
Jeff VanPevenage, president and CEO of Columbia Grain International at Portland, told The Lewiston Tribune his company has seen a 40 percent increase in demand for these products over the past couple of months, and processing plants are working around the clock to fulfill an ever-increasing number of orders.
“As the news started coming out, dry beans and shelf-stable foods were right in there with toilet paper,” VanPevenage said. “If you started going to the grocery stores in early February, you started to see toilet paper was gone, but dry beans and lentils were wiped out, and it continues to be wiped out.”
VanPevenage said he took a personal tour of seven grocery stores in the Portland area about a month ago and the empty shelves of legumes confirmed his suspicions.
“That’s not just something the general public shops for,” in bulk, he said.
At the same time, demand for legumes began escalating around the world. Buyers began to call American producers, wanting to buy more product and “wanting it shipped immediately,” VanPevenage said.
Transportation, however, has been a problem in some parts of the world, delaying how quickly the products can be shipped.
“I think what has happened, prices have been relatively cheap the last two or three years and buyers have become accustomed to buying what they want with immediate shipment,” VanPevenage said.
“When everybody in the world all of a sudden needed to restock, capacity (to resupply) was gone, just like that. The Canadians have had worse transportation problems than the U.S. and then (shipping) containers got tied up in China when they were shut down. So, with the lack of container availability to move this product, people could ship in June or July, but not now.”
The shipping capacity in the Pacific Northwest, however, appears to be fine for the time being. There have been enough containers to bring from Seattle and Tacoma to load at Lewiston and return to the coast, VanPevenage added.
“It hasn’t been perfect, but OK for the most part,” he said. “Unlike Canada (that is) 40 percent in need of containers.”
The bean boom has brought about a nice increase in prices for farmers in the region. VanPevenage said prices are up about 10 percent to 15 precent for pulses from a year ago.
As of Friday, April 17, the Pacific Northwest Farmers Cooperative listed cash bids for garbanzo beans at $18 a hundred weight; $15 for small brown lentils and $12 for whole green peas.
And although many farmers have nearly finished spring seeding, VanPevenage said growers were aware a few weeks ago of the rising demand for legumes and had time to adjust their plans to grow more acres, if they so choose.