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Growing Soybeans On The Fringe

When farmers started dabbling in soybean production in the prime growing areas of the Red River Valley of Manitoba back in the mid-90s, very few varieties were actually suited to the area. From a mere 2,000 acres in the late 90s, Manitoba farmers grew around 600,000 acres in 2011, in part because of the introduction of new varieties bred specifically for the shorter growing season. Further expansion out of the typical growing zone is already underway and set to continue.

The jury is still out on the average yield this year, but reports indicate soybean yields ranged from 25 bushels and acre to a few reports of over 50 bushels, depending how much moisture those fields received during the two months of hot, dry weather in July and August.

Back in 2002, Roland Pfitzner s best yielding variety was an old non-GMO variety from Ontario called Harmony, making up almost half of his total farm acres of 2,500 acres. Pfitzner s rule of thumb and advice to other would-be growers at that time was, We need varieties developed for and suited to a farmer s soil and climate. Just because it may do well in Grand Forks, North Dakota doesn t mean it will do well at Ile de Chenes, Man., a half-hour southeast of Winnipeg. While more and more farmers started growing soybeans, the biggest challenge continued to be access to suited varieties.

We ve sure come a long way since those early meetings in southern Manitoba with maybe two different varieties to choose from, says Dennis Lange, Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives s new business development specialist for pulses. In the last five years or so, we ve seen varieties that are a lot earlier maturing and that perform well in Manitoba. We are seeing more trials by companies grown under Manitoba conditions rather than down in Grand Forks.

Variety advancement should continue with the formation and announcement that will see new genetics developed for soybean farmers as a result of a new public breeding program supported by the Manitoba Pulse Growers Association (MPGA). The Advanced Canadian Field Crops through Breeding project began in April 2010 and will continue through till March 2013. This project is managed by the newly created Canadian Field Crop Research Alliance (CFCRA), which MPGA is a founding member. Farmers from Mani toba, Ontar io, Quebec and the Maritimes have come together to ensure that farmers have access to globally competitive varieties for years to come.

Andrew Saramaga farms with his father in the Oakbank, Beausejour, and Dugald areas near Winnipeg, and is president of the MPGA. He started farming back in 1994 part-time and full-time in 2003.

The Saramaga family farm has been growing soybeans since about 2001 planting only non- GMO varieties during the first three years. In 2004, North Star Genetics introduced some Roundup Ready varieties and the Saramaga family has been growing them ever since.

For Andrew and many other farmers like him who have had some really wet conditions, the soybeans have shone compared to some of the other cash crops. He commends the private investment of companies and the regional research done by them so instrumental in developing and bringing in genetics into Manitoba and helping find the right ones. Pulse growers are looking at going further west and into some of the fringe areas and trying to develop some crop insurance coverage throughout western Manitoba to help spur some growth in the industry out that way, says Saragmaga.


Doug Chorney farms at Beausejour, Man., about 65 km north of the Trans Canada highway and about 130 km north of the U.S. border. This is not soybean country by any stretch, and yes, he planted a third of his acres into soybeans in 2011.

Others started to grow soybeans in the area about ten years ago, but (they were) originally all non-GMO varieties. As the better varieties have evolved they seem to be well-adapted to our climate, says Chorney. He admits it hasn t been easy growing later season crops north of the Trans-Canada Highway. It s

remarkable how successful some of the longer-season crops like corn, sunflowers, and now soybeans can be, he says. It really has been the adaptive varieties that have made it possible.

For Chorney, one of the big motivations for soybean production has been the the high nitrogen fertilizer prices, so farmers keep looking for alternatives to canola for an oilseed. In spring he first plants his cereals and other oilseed crops and waits for the soil temperature to reach at least 8 C before planting his soybeans.

Eight degrees is plenty warm enough, but you don t want to go in too early with a crop like soybeans, he says, I know from years of experience growing sweet corn that seeding into cold ground is a mistake. We will generally start around May 15 with soybeans.

In his first year, he averaged 41 bushels an acre, but last year had excessive moisture issues, while this year excessive moisture in spring and drought through the summer dropped yields to about 25 bushels an acre. That s no fault of the soybeans, just the weather, he says.

With relatively normal growing conditions in the future we will be growing soybeans

for many years to come, says Chorney. We ve scaled back canola production because canola doesn t like having wet feet.

He straight-cuts the soybeans at about 13 per cent moisture using an air reel to help push the shorter plants up the header and always rolls the fields to make it easier to straight-cut the beans. For Chorney s farm, varieties Legend 0036 and North Star Genetics s Warren and Portage varieties have done well for him.

He advises all new soybean farmers to use lots of inoculate to begin with, at least until the inoculate and bacteria build up in the soils. People who skimp on inoculate generally are disappointed with results they get at the end of the year, he says.



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I know from years of experience growing sweet corn that seeding

into cold ground is a mistake

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