Growing specialty dry beans for seed is another crop option for desert growers. The multi-purpose sweet bean adzuki is used as seed for sprouts and ground into meal. The dessert bean is used in ice cream and pastries. The short plant grows from 1-2 feet in height and produces mostly red-colored beans.

Adzuki is popular in the Chinese diet. The bean is the second most important dry bean in Japan behind soybeans.

“We might not get the acreage in the desert to make it worthwhile as a large commodity, but we could grow the crop for the seed supply,” Rethwisch said. “Adzuki yields are about 4,000 pounds/acre in Minnesota. At $20 per hundredweight that would be about $800 per acre. I would expect higher yields in desert production.”

The major challenges for desert bean production include finding a market, pests (primarily insects), herbicides, and the harvest and storage.

“Whiteflies and stink bugs like beans,” Rethwisch said. “Spider mites could also pose a threat. I don’t know if the new Bagrada stink bug found in the desert last year would have an affinity for dry beans.”

Soybeans, typically grown east of the Rocky Mountains, can be grown in the desert. The plant can grow up to 6 feet tall and is usually combined in a single pass. Desert production would likely require early-maturing varieties. Selecting the wrong maturing variety for an area can result in green plants, but little seed set.

“The No. 1 challenge of growing soybeans in the desert Southwest is not growing the beans; it’s harvesting them. They shatter everywhere,” Rethwisch said. “This could be overcome by swathing the beans before reaching complete maturity and then bringing in the crop with a combine.”

Dryness is a friend and a foe in the desert; limiting diseases but encouraging insect populations, says Rethwisch. The warm weather would create the early marketing window for edamame, but generate shattering concerns for some other beans.

Beans are currently a minor crop in California agriculture compared to nuts and fruit. The top acreage includes baby and large lima beans (about 14,000 acres each), garbanzos, light red kidneys, plus about 2,000 acres each in cranberry, dark red kidney, black, pink, and pinto beans.

Recent reported values are about $1,600/acre for large limas, Rethwisch says, about $700/acre for pintos, and $1,000/acre for baby limas and black eyed peas.

“It’s a big world and the opportunities abound,” Rethwisch said. “It’s a matter of overcoming the challenges of production and marketing.”