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Farmers Keep Tabs On Corn And Soybean Opportunities

If it was up to the seed companies the whole country might be seeded fencepost to fencepost with easy to grow and profitable corn and soybeans, but then that might be the hope of the marketers of any hot new crop variety.

As new higher-yielding corn and soybean varieties with lower heat unit requirements are being introduced to the market each year, more acres of these traditional warm season crops are expanding into new territory across Western Canada.

Are these crops catching your interest? Most farmers contacted early last month for this October Farmer Panel were actually hard into harvest when that question was posed to them, so their thoughts were more focused on what was in the field in 2011, but corn and soybeans had not escaped their attention.

One farmer had already been growing them for 15 years, others were just new at it, still others were seriously looking to include them in rotation, and others didn t see either crop having a fit on their farm any time soon.

Here is what farmers contacted for the October farmer panel had to say about including corn and soybean crops in rotation:

MEL PENNER ALTONA, MAN.

Mel Penner has been growing corn and soybeans on his family farm in southeast Manitoba and just north of the North Dakota border for about 15 years.

While varieties have improved over the years, and both have been profitable crops in his rotation, Penner says weather is the wildcard in the success of these crops.

There have been a lot of farmers interested in corn and soybeans, but at the same time, the last three or four years have been quite wet, he says. This year we started out wet and now (approaching harvest) it is quite dry. August is when you need the moisture as August is when your yield of both corn and soybeans is determined. With soybeans for example, if you don t have rain in August you can go from a 45 bushel crop to a 20 bushel crop real quick. In a year like this some guys may change their attitude about how good these crops are.

Penner grows about 1,500 acres of soybeans and this year about 2,200 acres of grain corn. All corn and most of the soybeans are produced as row crops on 22-inch row spacing to optimize yield and weed control. He says he somewhat reluctantly switched over to Roundup Ready varieties because that is where breeding and genetics technology were producing the highest yields and it does afford ease of management.

He expects to keep both crops in rotation, and does have some potential to increase soybean acres in the future, but a lot will depend on weather patterns.

KENDALL HEISE ISABELLA, MAN.

Kendall Heise who crops about 3,000 acres of cereals, oilseeds and pulse crops near Isabella, Man., northwest of Brandon, says he would like to get into these crops, but figures it may be a few years yet.

I see more farmers growing both of these crops in this area, and I think we are almost there, says Heise. A lot of guys are growing corn for silage and it looks really good, and one of the first things if I grew soybeans is that I would have to get crop insurance coverage. But I think both corn and soybeans are getting very close to being a viable crop in this area.

He says if the economics or profitability of these crops are as good as people claim, he isn t worried about adding row cropping equipment to his machinery line.

We buy new equipment when we re producing grains and oilseeds, so that is something we do now, he says. Equipment shouldn t be an issue provided the economics are there.

He says it may take a bit more variety development, combined with climate change for these crops to have a low risk fit on his farm.

GERRID GUST DAVIDSON, SASK.

Gerrid Gust says he s waiting for lower heat unit varieties of corn, and soybeans with improved frost tolerance to be developed before he tries them on his Davidsonarea farm in central Saskatchewan, about half way between Regina and Saskatoon.

I talked to one fella who grew soybeans this year, but he said he wouldn t grow them again, says Gust, who is part of the family grain, oilseed and pulse crop farming operation. You see a bit of it around, but I don t think they re ready just yet for Davidson.

He says his area just doesn t consistently have the heat units to support either crop and he says frost can be an issue for soybeans both early in the season and at harvest so we need some varieties with improved frost tolerance, he says.

Initially, he also wondered if he would have the acres to justify investing in row cropping equipment. Although he says his new Seed Master can be adjusted so it seeds similar to a planter.

Even though his canola yields this year weren t as good as he hoped, he says right now along with wheat, barley and pulses, canola is his best oilseed option.

GREG GENIK GILBERT PLAINS, MAN.

Greg Genik has had two years of producing silage corn on his west central Manitoba farm at Gilbert Plain, west of Dauphin. It is considered a non-traditional corn growing area, however, he says the newer lower heat unit varieties have potential.

Genik s first corn crop in 2010 was almost a disaster. Under dry growing conditions it yielded only five tonnes per acre. But we also had silage barley the same year and it produced next to nothing, says Genik, who runs a cow-calf and feeder operation. The corn was terrible, but it did much better than barley. That experience, followed by a decent looking crop this year, has convinced him to keep corn in his rotation.

Genik, who grows two varieties of Pioneer Hi-Bred 2050 and 2150 heat unit corn, estimates the 2011 crop will yield about 12 tonnes per acre. He rented a corn planter to seed the crop under cool, wet conditions this spring, and then it turned warm and dry for the rest of the growing season. He expects to harvest silage the third week of October.

I don t think there is a lot of extra management with corn, he says. It is like any other crop, you have to use good production practices, good weed control and proper fertility. The big thing with corn, as with other crops, is the weather. That s what determines the kind of crop you ll have.

While his experience with corn hasn t been perfect, he sees it has potential to produce some type of crop under extreme conditions. Some people may say it is expensive to grow, but I think when you figure out the cost of production for each pound of dry matter produced it isn t much different than growing barley.

BRENT THOMAS HARTNEY, MAN.

If you can get your ahead around the fact you could be combining in March, you ll probably do fine growing grain corn, says Brent Thomas.

While producing corn has been a steep and sometimes painful learning curve for the southwest Manitoba farmer, Thomas says the opportunity is there to earn a good return from the crop, which even on a poorer year can outshine canola and sunflowers.

Thomas, who farms near Hartney, close to both the North Dakota and Saskatchewan borders, has produced three crops of corn silage in 2008 and grain in 2009 and 2010. He doesn t have any corn in this year. In fact due to the extremely wet conditions last spring he only got about 20 per cent of his farm seeded and that went into canola, which by fall had turned out to be a disappointing crop.

Despite the challenges of growing and harvesting corn, Thomas says it can produce a good return. In 2009 the crop yielded 60 bushel/ acre which at about $5 bushel, he says is breakeven, but then in 2010 with improved growing conditions yields jumped to about 110 bushels per acre.

When you re looking at 110 bushels at $5 to $6 per bushel you are looking at some serious money, he says. Our 2010 crop was 110 bushels per acre and it was one of those crops you dream about. I think the opportunity is there with this crop, but it takes some learning, and you need patience, and you have to have faith that the weather won t work against you, at least not every year.

Thomas has grown about 450 acres each year of a Pioneer Hi-Bred 2050 heat unit variety. He had row planting equipment he s used for sunflowers which works well for seeding corn on 30 inch row spacing. He has upgraded the combine header for corn harvesting. His limiting factor is not having grain drying facilities, only aeration bins, so that means leaving the crop to naturally dry in the field until it is within one or two points of the target 15.5 per cent moisture preferred by ethanol processors.

If you had an ideal year where you could get the crop seeded by May 5, and then good moisture and heat during the growing season and a nice fall, you could probably have naturally dry corn in the bin by Remembrance Day, he says. But the weather has been so extreme, so that means you just have to be patient and adapt.

The 2008 silage crop grew reasonably well, but then the silage deal fell through at the last minute, leaving Thomas with a corn crop no one wanted for silage, and was too immature to salvage as grain.

In 2009, he grew both grain corn and sunflowers. It was a very dry year. The corn only yielded 60 bushels per acre but it was twice the yield of sunflowers, and that s what really opened my eyes, that it was a crop with more potential and more adaptability in these heavy clay soils than sunflowers, he says. And with Roundup Ready corn it meant fields were cleaner and it would work better in rotation with canola.

The 2010 grain corn crop did much better than 2009, producing a 110 bushel yield. But getting it mature and dry was the challenge. There were some nice days in November if you weren t harvesting corn, but it was mild and foggy and just too much humidity, he says. And then there was frequent snowfall through December and January and you can t combine corn plants with snow on them.

So it wasn t until February and on into March Thomas got some decent days to harvest corn. Working by himself, 450 acres takes 12 to 15 days of combining. You just have to take it day by day and see what the weather is going to do, he says. The corn dries really well and stands well, but you don t want any snow on it. So you re waiting for a sunny day, that is cold, no snow and the ground is still frozen so you can travel with the combine.

He says harvesting in February and March works very well, allowing him to combine good quality grain corn at 16 or 17 per cent moisture and then putting it in aeration bins until it dries down to 15.5 per cent. He says somedays he was even able to combine dry corn at 15.5 per cent moisture. He does note that combines don t work well at -30 C and ideally it should be a sunny day, at -10 C to -15 C temperatures.

It is a crop that has its pros and cons and it does take some learning, he says. But it is also a crop you can make some money on.

LeeHartisafieldeditorforGrainewsin Calgary,Contacthimat403-592-1964orby emailat [email protected]

About the author

Field Editor

Lee Hart

Lee Hart is editor of Cattleman’s Corner based in Calgary.

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