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Soybeans in Saskatchewan

Field notes: At a summer plot tour, Southeast Saskatchewan farmer Bobbie Bratrud took a look at some new varieties and crops that could give her farm a competitive edge

If you would have told me 10 years ago that I would not only be attending a local plot tour focused on soybeans, but that they would make up 20 per cent of my farm’s acres, I would have never believed you. The changes and advancements in the varieties of crops we can grow here are amazing.

Last August I attended Eggum Seed Sales’ annual soybean plot tour. I expected to see the usual: replicated variety and agronomic trials showcasing soybeans. What I didn’t expect to see was the wide diversity of local farmer interest and experience in growing soybeans.

One of the major benefits to farming in southeast Saskatchewan is the large crop basket we can grow here. Being able to alter crop rotations among up to 15 different crops, based on market outlooks, farmer expertise or rotational requirements is a huge advantage that many other areas don’t have. I see it as a great benefit that can make our farm more sustainable. Beans and corn are crops that are quickly becoming a viable option for many farms, helping to provide another profitable crop option.

The plots showcased eight different soybean varieties with maturity ratings suitable to southeast Saskatchewan. Replicated trials were developed, managed, and brought to yield by Southeast Research Farm (SERF) out of Redvers, Sask. There was friendly competition among farmers as we estimated each variety’s yield potential. There was a lot of discussion of how each farmer picked the winning variety: do you judge it on overall plant appearance, plant height, number of pods and flowers, or seeds per pod?

Learning how new crops set yield is a challenge for everyone. There is still a lot to learn before we can do the quick 50 mile per hour drive by that we do with crops we are very familiar with. I’m still not sure how accurate my guesses were as the yield results have not been finalized.

The importance of having proper inoculant coverage and rates for the beans is well known and researched. Beans are such a new crop to our area and there are virtually no native rhizobium in our soils, making the inoculation even more critical. Eggum Seed Sales had inoculants trials comparing liquid, granular, a combination of both, as well as one to triple the recommended rate.

The visual differences between the trials were obvious, with the beans looking healthier and a more lush green colour with the combination of both liquid and granular inoculants at increased rates. With an average bean plant requiring over four actual pounds of nitrogen per bushel, it is obvious how critical proper inoculation is.

The soybeans we grew on our farm in Southeast Saskatchewan had excellent nodulation.

The soybeans we grew on our farm in Southeast Saskatchewan had excellent nodulation.
photo: Bobbie Bratrud

Seeding Rate

As with all crops it is critical to find a seeding rate that balances crop maturity and yield potential. This is even more of a consideration in beans, where the seeding rate determines virtually all of the variable cost that the farmers are investing in that crop. I consider southeast Saskatchewan at times on the fringe for bean and corn production, although this is changing as higher yielding short season varieties are becoming available each year.

Seeding rate is a definite management balance between managing seed costs and obtaining proper maturity to be able to finish off the crop. As beans and corn become a bigger and more substantial portion of our crop basket there is a definite need to evaluate and compare a planter vs. solid seeding with a drill. Eggum Seed Sales is planning to look at different seeding systems in their fieldwork in the future.

The main benefit to using a planter is to be able to decrease the seeding rate substantially (and seed cost) without sacrificing plant maturity. The number of acres a farmer is planning to seed to beans or corn will determine if the seed savings justify the cost of an additional piece of equipment. So far it is believed that farmers have seen very little yield difference from fields seeded with a planter or solid seeded with a drill. I think a local trial looking at planters versus a drill would be interesting and helpful.

More years than not, mid-season moisture conservation is key to allowing crops to fill and reach the highest yield potential possible. This may be even more pronounced in beans, which are indeterminate, as the ability of the plant to continue to flower and set seed is directly related to the plant not shutting down from moisture stress. There could definitely be a case to be made for optimizing ground cover and minimizing moisture losses with solid seeding versus a planter with wide row spacing, leaving exposed soil risking additional moisture losses. This is something we always have to consider in our area as moisture isn’t as readily available as it is in some more traditional bean growing climates.

From the Country Guide website: Sask. growers eye increased pulse, soybean acres

Fungicide

These trials did not look at any comparisons of treating soybeans with fungicide. There is very little data showing results or returns of fungicide application. I look forward to local growers completing on-farm field-size trials as well as replicated trial comparisons. Proper fungicide timing may be harder to determine due to the indeterminate and lengthy flowering stage of beans. This is an example of where local data and results will be important as more experience in bean production and pushing yield curves occur.

On our farm, we noticed some brown spots on our beans last summer. We decided to do some trials and spray the beans at mid-flower with Headline. Marcel Van Staveren, who farms near Creelman, Sask., also sprayed some of his beans with a fungicide. Our farm saw some favourable results from the application, however Van Staverens didn’t see any yield difference between the treated and untreated. While the results were not scientific, they definitely piqued our interest enough to try some trials again next year and see what the results are.

Corn

Corn stalks in a pail.

There was a lot of interest in the short season variety TH4574RR at a summer plot tour in southeast Saskatchewan.
photo: Bobbie Bratrud

Corn production for seed has been increasing locally over the last couple of years. Eggums’ plot tour featured some samples of a short season variety TH4574RR. There was quite a bit of interest in this variety because of its ability to mature and set seed with heat units of 2075 and maturity of 74 days, which should easily fit our environment.

Soybeans and corn, once thought to be crops grown in Manitoba or south of us in the U.S., have definitely made their way into our cropping options in southeast Saskatchewan. As we gain more experience and comfort with these crops I’m sure they will continue to be a larger portion of our farm. Additional cropping options make our farm stronger and more tolerant to weather and market risk, improving our competitive edge.

Bobbie Bratrud farms with her husband Mark near Weyburn, Sask. They also run Bratrud Ag Advisory Services (www.bratrudag.ca).

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