CHIPPEWA VALLEY, Wis. (WLAX/WEUX) – After years of trial and error, a business started by two western Wisconsin farmers now sells its product worldwide.
In tonight’s Harvesting Heroes, First News at Nine’s Maria Blough shares how one unlikely crop is drawing global attention to Dunn County.
The plants in this field south of Menomonie look like green beans. Crack one open, and you’ll get a surprise. Dark red kidney beans.
When Bob Wachsmuth partnered with Russell Doane back in the 1960s, they were the first people to plant them in Wisconsin. They dove right in.
Wachsmuth, Vice President-Chippewa Valley Bean, said, “The first year we had the beans in 69, i think we had 800 or 900 acres of them which is a pretty big leap.”
A few years later they started Chippewa Valley bean to market their product.
It has since grown to become the largest processor of dark red kidney beans in the world.
“It’s come with a lot of work for a lot of years. When you go back, we’re up to 50 years that I’ve been involved in this game. It’s really been the last 5 that we’ve really expanded. But that has come as a result of the tenacity of hanging in there,” said Wachsmuth.
Red kidney beans are usually ready to harvest starting in late August. That’s when the work starts for plant manager Tricia Kwak.
“The beans are coming in 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We could have upwards of 100 trucks a day coming in and the beans getting stored into the bins. It takes us all year to process everything that comes in during the fall harvest,” said Kwak.
Along with the thousands of acres grown there, Chippewa Valley Bean buys from hundreds of growers throughout the Midwest.
As the beans come in, they go through a process to get clean.
“They are sent through screeners, air cleaners, what we call gravity tables, designers, and color sorters,” said Kwak.
They’re also paying attention to quality. In the lab, they constantly check the beans.
Kwak said, “In addition to finished product grading, we also do online grading where we’re pulling a sample off the line every twenty minutes and looking for defects and making sure we’re adhering to the standard that we want to meet.”
Once they pass all the tests, the kidney beans are bagged up.
70% of them head overseas to one of over 30 countries.
Over the past couple of years, this has become challenging. From tariffs on bean imports to the European Union to transportation issues.
Cindy Brown said, “We literally had a product that we loaded containers in February and they went to Chicago and they stayed there until the end of May. They did not make an east coast port until June. So, there were thousands of containers sitting in Chicago waiting to ship.”
Cindy Brown is the president of Chippewa Valley Bean and the daughter of founder Russell Doane.
Though there’s plenty of uncertainty she’s certain they’ll find a solution.
“We’ll figure it out because that’s what we do. We’ll take it from one point to the next and if one roadblock is here, we’ll figure out what else we should do. And that’s not unlike what all us farmers do–they go with the flow,” said Brown.
Despite no clear timeline for a solution, Brown says they’re in it for the long run.
In Dunn County Maria Blough First News at Nine.
Over the years Chippewa Valley Beans has also been working on sustainability from rotating crops to investing in energy-efficient lighting and more.