BUXTON, N.D. – The groundwork that members of Central Valley Bean Co-Op laid nearly 40 years ago keeps the Buxton business growing.

The 400-member cooperative, formed in 1982, now is one of North Dakota's largest dry edible bean companies. Central Valley Bean Co-op annually processes more than a million 100-pound bags of pinto beans, which represents 12% of the United States production. The cooperative also handles navy beans, and growers can deliver black beans to its Alliance Valley plant in Larimore, N.D.

Over the years, Central Valley Bean Co-Op board members and management have built on the successes of their predecessors, said Scott Sundeen, the companies’ plant manager, who has worked for the co-op since 1984.

“There have been years of good decisions,” Sundeen said.

Since its beginning when the cooperative was housed in a single-unit building, Central Valley Bean Co-op has expanded to include steel bins, storage buildings and an edible bean processing plant. Meanwhile, the cooperative also has purchased several storage facilities and plants and increased its number of receiving stations. Receiving stations include facilities in the North Dakota towns of Pisek, Kloten and Cando.

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The edible bean cooperative sells most of its products to buyers across the United States, and about 20% is shipped to countries around the world, said Daniel Fuglesten, Central Valley Bean Co-Op general manager. Florida, California and Texas are the main domestic markets for packaged edible beans. The other 50% of the cooperative’s edible beans are sold to end-users who can them or make a dehydrated product.

The fertile soil and usually adequate moisture in North Dakota and Minnesota produces a high-quality crop that has good yields, making it attractive for farmers. In 2020, the weather for harvest also was excellent, in sharp contrast to the previous year, when muddy conditions forced farmers in the two states to abandon thousands of acres of edible beans.

On the flip side, the coronavirus pandemic presented the cooperative with a challenge as Fuglesten had to figure out how to continue to supply Central Valley Bean Co-Op customers with products and serve its bean farmers, all while keeping himself and his staff healthy.

Fuglesten managed to keep the cooperative open throughout the pandemic by putting in place social distancing, sanitizing and having employees work from home when possible.

Meanwhile, late last winter he was concerned that parts and supplies might be in short supply because of the pandemic, so he ordered them to have on hand .That helped prevent downtime when there was an equipment breakdown.

Demand for dry edible beans increased slightly during the pandemic because people were doing more home cooking, Fuglesten said, noting that’s the typical response of consumers when people are uncertain about the future. The same things happened before Y2K, he said.

Fuglesten believes that demand for dry edible beans will continue to increase because consumers are concerned about eating a balanced diet. Dry edible beans are rich in micronutrients, including folate, iron and zinc and are a significant source of protein in vegetarian diets.

“It’s a healthy food. You think of the things you can sell and be proud of. It’s a staple,” Fuglesten said.