McCain Bean Production

May 2011

A factory upgrade means more beans processed in the region for McCain Foods

More than 500ha of dwarf green beans have been grown this summer in Hawke’s Bay for processing for McCain Foods, the first time in 14 years.

Until this year McCain Foods grew its beans at Smithton in Tasmania, but has moved its production to Hastings, where it has spent $19 million upgrading the factory. Other vegetable processors grow their beans in the South Island.

McCain Foods is a family business based in Canada, and its core business is french fry production. The company produces 40% of the world’s fries. In NZ it produces fries at its Timaru plant.

McCain Foods’ upgrade of the Hastings plant has resulted in the addition of a potential 2000ha more of process vegetables to be grown in Hawke’s Bay each summer. “When we get to our full potential, we will be doing 6000ha of crops,” Mike Flynn, Field Manager, McCain Foods says.

The company has growers throughout the Bay and as far south as Dannevirke growing peas, sweetcorn, beans and carrots.

Pea production has also increased this year and the expansion will allow for double the production of last year. Also included in the expansion is the production of Ring and Baby carrots. He expects bean production to stay stable now at around the 500ha mark.

The Hastings plant also processes sous chef type potatoes, which are sliced and diced, blanched and frozen and swedes from Ohakune.

The upgrade has meant considerably more work. Mike has two extra staff to help him and in the factory there are up to 40 extra permanent and 60 seasonal staff taken on as a result of the expansion.

“Our green bean production has been filled by existing McCain Foods growers, and it has been a challenge”, Mike says.

“That’s because the first third of the season saw 200mm of rain fall in January, which destroyed big areas and damaged other crops, resulting in very poor yields.”

Temperature spikes during flowering causes petal drop, which suppresses yield. When temperatures exceed 30degC at flowering, which is 35-40 days after planting, yields can be affected. “We had some pretty hot days in December and January.” However in mid March, with the harvest halfway through, yields have improved.

Frosts limit the crop into autumn, so most of the crop will be harvested by the end of March as April can be frost-prone in Hawke’s Bay. However this year, because of the early losses, almost 40ha of beans were planted late to offset these, and they will be harvested into mid April.

“Climate is not the only challenge growers have to face”, he says. Growers get paid a greater margin for beans compared with peas, and that’s because there are a lot more inputs in terms of cultivation and pesticide applications.

Because beans are grown later in the season than peas, they are likely to get more insect damage too. The seed is more expensive, and they require a good seedbed to grow in and good silt loam soils.

Peas in comparison are straightforward, and not so prone to fungal diseases. Also they are a total cover crop, while beans are grown in rows.

Beans take only 65-75 days to mature from planting. Planting began in late November.

The whole crop is irrigated. “We don’t grow unless we can irrigate.”

The beans are grown for four different products: either cut beans, French sliced or whole or baby beans, which are the premium product.

This year six different bean cultivars are being grown to evaluate how they perform in Hawke’s Bay conditions. Next year these will be narrowed down to the best performing cultivars.

“This year one grower in Central Hawke’s Bay grew 80ha of beans in a strip tillage system, and they look good”, Mike says. “Some have already been harvested, and they have been a success”.

Strip tillage has many benefits: the soil structure is largely left intact, there are less inputs in terms of cultivation costs because only a strip is being cultivated, using less diesel and less tractor time and labour.

This crop is also being grown on a GPS tram-lining system where each year the machinery uses the same tracks.

All the beans are harvested by contractor Tasman Harvester Contractors Ltd, a trans-Tasman company.

Dwarf green beans give Hawke’s Bay process vegetable growers another crop in their rotations.

“We are going to see big benefits for our growers, especially when it comes to managing the weed broomcorn millet”, Mike says. “Broomcorn millet is a worsening problem, but we are a lot more alert and reactive to it than before.”

Putting beans into the rotation helps control the spread of millet, which is much more of a problem in sweetcorn crops.

The beans also spread the risk for growers into an alternative crop.

“And we seem to be seeing some good advantages out of double cropping in one season”, Mike says. “First growers put in a crop of peas which is harvested, and then beans are planted immediately. We are seeing benefits in having beans following peas as the peas fix nitrogen, which in turn creates a good start for the beans. It’s a theory at this stage”.

About half of the beans are being grown in Central Hawke’s Bay, where a major water storage project is now underway. Mike is an enthusiastic supporter of the project, and says the development of dams will help growers there secure the opportunity to grow these process crops.