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Tweaking the 2010 soybean crop opportunities

For those trying to find soybean fields in Alberta or Saskatchewan, the good news is that they do exist, and are growing in number.

May 3, 2010  By John Dietz

For those trying to find soybean fields in Alberta or Saskatchewan, the good news is that they do exist, and are growing in number.

Soybean field on the Fabian Seed Farm, Tilley, Alberta, taken in 2009. (Photo courtesy of Andrew Fabian)

Quarry Grain Commodities in Stonewall, Manitoba, and its seed division, Quarry Seed, is one of four major players in the fledgling soybean industry in Western Canada. Quarry has grown with the industry since about 2002. Their first market area was only southeast Manitoba. “We buy today from some soybean growers in Saskatchewan and from a few in Alberta. For seed sales, we’re expanding quite a bit into Saskatchewan and slowly starting to go into Alberta,” says Shawn Rempel, product manager.


The 2009 production area, he says, extended as far north as Swan River, Manitoba, and Foam Lake, Saskatchewan. It also included a “handful” of early adapters between Alberta’s Highway 1 and Highway 3 corridor.

According to Patrick Fabian of Fabian Seed Farms Inc., Tilley, Alberta, approximately 15 growers seeded about 1000 acres in 2009. Early yield reports indicated production is likely to continue expanding, with yields from this year in the 30 to 55 bu/ac range. 

Risk outlook

There is profit to be had in a relatively inexpensive crop to grow, if a grower can get it into the bin in good condition, according to Rempel and Brent Reid, farm production advisor for Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives, in Dugald. That is why an estimated 440,000 acres of soybeans were seeded in Manitoba in 2009.

Rempel projects a slight increase in 2010 seed acres. Monsanto, Northstar Genetics, Pioneer Hi-Bred and Quarry Seed are the four main companies in the soybean seed market for Western Canada. Quarry’s market share, Rempel estimates, may be “number two” among the four companies.

Roundup Ready soybeans became available about 2001 and changed the entire production picture for growers. Manitoba Crop Insurance Corporation figures indicate that about 93 percent of the 2009 crop was the genetically modified, glyphosate-tolerant type of bean for the non-food markets.

A second-generation soybean, Roundup Ready 2, is to be released in 2010 in the United States and is expected to roll-out in Canada one or two years later. According to Monsanto, the next generation bean is showing a proven yield benefit of more than seven percent. “There’s more risk, but less at risk” growing soybeans, Rempel tells growers who are considering placing their first order for soybean seed. “Five years ago, growers were lucky to have a liquid inoculant to put on the seed. Now, there’s a pipeline of product.”

The typical input package includes both liquid and granular inoculant. Some also use a seed treatment to improve yield. Off-setting these inputs, fields with a reasonable phosphate supply do not require any fertilizer input. Soybeans, with inoculant, secure their own nitrogen.

Net result?
“Soybeans are a relatively inexpensive crop to grow,” says Rempel. “In comparison to canola, soybeans are inexpensive in the whole per acre input cost. You can put soybeans in the ground for probably less than $90 per acre, total inputs, full-meal deal of inoculants, seed, treatments, everything. Canola is close to $200 per acre. So, soybeans are having the highest net return.”

With the Roundup-Ready trait, soybeans are a good rotation crop for cleaning up a dirty weed situation. The handful of growers in places like Arborg, Dauphin and Swan River were mostly testing the soybean potential, and had good to excellent results despite a very difficult growing season. “I wouldn’t be shocked to see about 8000 acres next year in that area around Dauphin and Ste Rose; they absolutely loved it,” Rempel says.

He adds that, soybeans were peppered “pretty much everywhere” within a hundred mile radius of Yorkton, Saskatchewan. Moisture is the primary limiting factor for westward expansion. Rempel says, “Anything on irrigation out around Taber, Brooks and Tilley, Alberta, is doing well. We’ve had yield reports as high as 58 bu/ac out there.”

Cold soil for seed also limits expansion. “Soybeans like warm ground,” he says. “Soybeans aren’t adapted all that well to min-till situations. We’re trying to come up with scenarios that retain moisture while getting the ground a little blacker, and warmer, for the soybeans.”

Lessons learned
Lessons about field selection and rotation were being learned in 2009 about the new Manitoba crop, says Reid. “This year we saw fields that really struggled, so field selection is important,” he says. “If you have a choice between two similar fields for soybeans, take the blacker of the two because it’s a heat-loving crop. We’ve also seen real issues with soybeans going into stubble from winter wheat or one of the forage grasses like perennial rye. We’re not sure why, but we’re seeing really reduced yields.” 

Disease potential also changes with the field. White mold (sclerotinia) normally has not been a serious issue for soybeans on the Prairies until 2009. Conditions were very cool and very wet for most of the summer. “There was so much sclerotinia this year, there’s going to be a lot of sclerotia bodies out there for 2010. And, there is no in-crop spray for sclerotinia in soybeans.”

The lesson, he says, is to seed the 2010 soybeans on to cereal or flax stubble. In particular, growers should avoid putting them into canola, sunflower, edible bean, pea or soybean stubble.

Most 2010 soybean crops will be placed in the ground by air seeders, but there is growing interest in using precision row-crop planters, Reid says. A planter is a “better seed placement tool” in that it can lower the amount of seed required while capturing the same yield with neatly stitched seed placement on wide rows (16 to 20 inches apart). It may make sense, if the grower is also seeding corn or sunflowers. If shopping for a new planter that may be used for soybeans, adds Reid, check to be sure it allows application of a granular inoculant. Some do not.

Premiums for conventional, non-GMO soybeans are being offered, Reid says. It may be attractive, but there is more management required, as well. Weed control is tougher and herbicide costs are substantially higher for the non-GMO types of soybean. Tight management also is required to minimize dirt, splits and cracks.  

As of Dec. 1, 2009, it was too early to determine the soybean seed supply and quality outlook. The general advice for growers looking to soybeans is to check the germination report for certified seed and stock up early.


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