Soybeans have been one of the main crops for American farmers for many years, and for good reason. They are a low maintenance legume crop that fixes its own nitrogen and, because they have been grown in tight rotations, has a lot of genetic disease resistance bred into them. At Friendly Acres Seed Farm, we are going into our fourth year growing soybeans.
Here is a recount of our experiences from 2008. We grew the variety LS0036RR.
Spring broke cool and damp again. Luckily, we never received much for spring rains until after seeding. We dribble band liquid UAN (28-0-0) on our winter wheat the end of April. Agrotain is one of the keys we found that really helps our nitrogen use efficiency, especially with the high price of nitrogen. Two years ago we saw a 15 per cent yield increase by using Agrotain, plus we were able to just make one pass instead of making two passes of half rates.
Canola was the first to be seeded, which we finished May 15. The next day we got our soybean seed ready. We inoculated with CelTech SCI and put CruiserMaxx Beans on the seed. CelTech SCI is a 30-day liquid inoculant for soybeans. The extra cost of the 30-day liquid over a four-day liquid is just over $1 per acre. CruiserMaxx Beans seed treatment provides both an insecticide and fungicide that is compatible with most liquid inoculants. It protects the seed and seedling again pythium, phytophthora, rhizoctonia, fusarium, seed-borne sclerotinia, seed-borne phomopsis and general seed rots plus a host of insect pests. The biggest reason we use the seed treatment is because good supporting evidence suggests that even under low disease and insect pressure, it still delivers earlier and more even emergence, higher yields and earlier maturity. Research done by Quarry Seed has shown a minimum of one day earlier maturity, but up to 10 days and a five to 15 per cent yield increase in replicated trials over the last two years.
From our results last year, where we saw our highest yields coming off of fields that were seeded soybean on soybean, we decided to try to double our granular inoculant rate to see if we could increase yields, especially on first year soybean fields. We used a full rate of Soil Implant + and TagTeam for Soybeans on a couple of fields, and then just a full rate of TagTeam for Soybeans on the rest.
We started seeding on May 17 and finished seeding 440 acres on May 20. The top part of the soil was dry, but the subsoil moisture was excellent. Seeding depth was set at one inch, which in hindsight was a slightly shallow due to the dry soil. We seeded into oat, winter wheat, Prairie spring wheat, and soybean stubble. We used our Bourgault airseeder, with 10-inch shovels on eight-inch centres and gang packers. Shovels were used to help blacken and warm the soil while the packers were to firm the soil around the seed. After searching for a land roller, we managed to rent one for a short 14-hour window. Rolling land in the dark without autosteer is not very efficient. I used a handheld Garmin GPS to give some guidance but I must have overlapped a lot. That’s better than missing, because we have rocks. The soybeans were just starting to germinate when they were rolled. Rolling is a must for soybeans as the bottom pods are usually two to three centimetres off the soil surface. You want to have a smooth surface so you can scrape the ground with a flex header or swather. Plus any soil clods are crushed to reduce earth tag and soil particles in the grain sample.
The question about seed-placed fertilizer comes up in discussions about soybeans. From research from Quarry Seed’s Valley Soybean Expo (which will be held on July 16, 2009) shows that for every pound of seed-placed dry phosphate, 0.5 per cent of the plants die, which causes later maturity and in some cases lower yields. The highest yield in the trial came with TagTeam for Soybeans. Another question is about using starter nitrogen. In the United States, only 30 per cent of the soybean acres are inoculated and they see a benefit of adding some starter nitrogen. By adding the liquid inoculant on the seed, nodules are initiated early in the plant’s growth and start fixing nitrogen early in the season. By adding nitrogen and inoculating, the plants will use the available nitrogen and reject any nodules. When the plant requires more nitrogen, then the nodules will start appearing. So we might as well let the nodules work from day one instead of depending on fertilizer.
June was cool and moist. The soybeans did not progress much until we finally got some heat the first part of July. We did have a concern on four fields about volunteer Roundup Ready canola, so we used a two-thirds rate of Odyssey after the second pass of Roundup WeatherMax. The canola was at the three-to four-leaf stage, and Odyssey gave good control. For the other field seeded into canola stubble, we thought the canola had been Liberty Link. We assumed the Roundup would control the volunteers. By the time we realized it was Roundup Ready volunteers from six years ago, it was too late to spray. The canola ended up running five bushels per acre after we cleaned it out of the field with a rotary cleaner.
When we finally got rolling on the winter wheat harvest August 26, the soybeans started to show off-green patches that turned yellow by the following day. On August 28, the patches tripled in size, which means we would have 80 per cent of our yield if a frost hit. I talked to a couple of customers from Mossbank and Arbourfield, Sask. Both said their soybeans were at the same stage.
More rain came, which slowed down the ripening process but by September 13, most of the leaves were off the plant. Because these soybeans were for seed, we need to wait until 90 per cent of the leaves fall off before the field inspector can inspect the field. That didn’t happen until October 2. When the inspector left the field, the combine was rolling. Of course, it rained six tenths on October 3 and October 5. We were back two days later combining dry soybeans. Then it snowed four inches October 12 and we had 200 acres of soybeans still in the field. By October 16, we were back combining, once again dry soybeans. We finished harvesting soybeans four days later. This long harvest stretch may sound bad, but we only harvested for four days in between rains. We did not have any grading issues with all of the moisture. We ended up averaging 28 bushels per acre. Our highest average — 33 bushels per acre — was on soybean stubble.
When comparing our canola to soybeans, our canola averaged 43 bushels per acre. Our average input costs for canola were around $250 per acre. Soybeans are around $140. Based on our selling prices as of February 20, 2009, canola will gross us $8.20 per bushel or $352.60 per acre. Commodity soybeans are holding their value at $8.49 per bushel, giving us $237.72 per acre. In net dollars, canola gives us $102.60 per acre where soybeans leaves us $97.72 per acre, plus we have nitrogen fixed in the soil from the soybeans, a disease break for all crops, and mellow soil for the next crop. As a rule of thumb, canola has to have about 15 extra bushels to match the net dollars for soybeans, assuming similar selling prices. As the input costs for canola keep rising, it makes soybeans a lower risk crop than canola. The only reason we will keep canola in our rotation is to grow winter cereals.
For our 2009 crop, we are going to be growing 45 per cent of our seeded acres as soybeans, half LS0028RR and the other LS0036RR. In the fall I banded 20 acres with 30 pounds of actual phosphate and potash across a 200-acre field. Half of that field was oats in 2008 and other half was LS0036RR. The fields are going to be seeded to LS0028RR and LS0036RR respectively. We will then see what increasing fertilizer will do to yields. From results from the Valley Soybean Expo, we will then play around on soybean on soybean with the granular inoculant rates. Other trials will be with foliar feeding soybeans with OMEX liquid phosphate, while we will try some mycorrhizae from Premier Tech Biotechnologies. If anyone has any other ideas for our soybean trials, please let us know.
Kevin Elmy operates Friendly Acres Seed Farm, along with his wife, Christina, and parents, Robert and Verene, near Saltcoats, Sask. You can contact him at 306-744-2779 or [email protected]