Soybeans are still the new kid on the block in southern Alberta. Here are nine reasons why they’re not going away
Farmers are constantly looking for different ways to improve their bottom lines. When a new crop comes along, they look to see if it will work in their operation. Many factors come into play when evaluating a new crop: adaptability to your growing area, learning curve required, specialized equipment needed, potential marketing issues and more.
We’ve been growing soybeans on our farm at Tilley, Alta., since 2004. They bring a great benefit to our operation, even though over the years, as with any new crop, there has been a lot of trial and error. We had to find out what worked for our region, as the research done in other parts of North America did not apply to us. No research had been done on soybeans in southern Alberta except in the 1980s where the conclusion was that this crop could not be grown in our short season climate.
That may have been true back then, but with the advent of Roundup Ready Technology for soybeans and daylight sensitive varieties, a door was finally opened and they can be successfully grows in southern Alberta. Now soybeans have been bred and developed that have greatly shortened the days to maturity and fewer heat units required.
They’re here to stay
Those who have never considered this crop will be wondering, “Are soybeans the magical silver bullet?” And, “Are they going to revolutionize my operation?”
The answer to the first question is no. Soybeans are another tool for your crop option toolbox, but just as a nine-sixteenths wrench isn’t going to fix every repair, neither will soybeans be a stand-alone solution. The answer to the second question, “Will they revolutionize your organization,” is “maybe.” They have revolutionized ours.
Soybeans offer many advantages. Here are nine of the more prominent benefits:
1. Spread out the spring seeding workload. Soybeans need to be planted when soils are warm, which usually occurs after the majority of the other crops are seeded. This relieves the stress of getting all the crops planted in such a small window of time. Typical seeding dates for soybeans are in the last two weeks of May to the first week in June.
2. Lower input costs than many other crops. Although soybeans have most of their costs up front at planting time, they tend to be cheaper than raising other crops that we’re currently growing — in some cases significantly cheaper.
Typically, a soybean crop can be planted on irrigation for less than $150 per acre for the entire year’s cash costs, fertility included. Some competing crops require almost that amount in fertilizer alone. Bottom line: fewer inputs means more manoeuvrability cash flow-wise, which means less overall risk.
3. Prepare the soil for next year’s crop. One thing that not too may other crops can boast is the ability to prepare the ground for next year’s crop. Soybeans can. As a legume, they fix huge amounts of nitrogen. To clarify that point, soybean plants require 300 pounds of nitrogen to produce a 50 bushel crop. They not only produce that amount when inoculated properly, but they also leave a significant amount behind that will be released over the next two years to following crops.
In addition, the fields are usually substantially cleaner because of the Roundup Ready Technology. The soybean crop can tolerate much higher rates of Roundup than Roundup Ready canola, thereby ensuring the target weeds are killed, not merely suppressed, avoiding potential herbicide resistance issues.
Because soybeans are both an oilseed and a pulse, they leave the ground mellow for cropping next spring. One farmer in Carbon, Alta., saw a 12 bushel per acre yield increase on his Hard Red Spring wheat planted on soybean stubble versus his canola stubble right beside in 2012. (He treated both quarters as one field to make a fair comparison.)
4. Can be grown with wheel move irrigation. Because soybeans only grow about 40 inches tall, they can easily be grown under wheel line irrigation. The pipes do not get trapped in the overgrown crop, and late-season watering can be a reality, not just a wish.
5. Pests are not an issue. Growing soybeans means no extra trips across the field with dangerous insecticides in your sprayer. No flea beetles, no cabbage seed pod weevils, no lygus bugs, no bertha armyworms threaten the crop. The stems on soybeans are hairy, and act as a natural pest deterrent.
6. Do not require specialized equipment. Unlike some crops that require specific equipment, soybeans do not. This is a bonus for those who want to try the crop for the first time — their existing equipment is sufficient. Soybeans can be planted with hoe drills, disc drills, air seeders, and planters, and harvested with no modifications to combines. Every combine comes from the factory with settings for soybeans!
7. Spread out harvest work load. Just as in the spring, soybeans are extremely flexible at harvest. They have an incredible shattering resistance and can be left standing in the field until you are ready to combine them. If you have higher risk crops ready the same time as the soybeans, leave them stand and do the high-risk crops first. Soybeans won’t lodge or shatter on the ground and can be harvested at five miles per hour if desired.
8. Grading factor leniency. If you have grown pulses before you are probably aware of the strict grading rules dealing with harvest and auger damage. Not so with soybeans. If you split a soybean, it’s not dockage; in fact if you took that split and broke it again it still isn’t dockage. Neither are cracks or chips up to 15 per cent of the sample. Unlike canola with a limit of three per cent green seed, soybean grading allows up to five per cent greens with no penalty.
9. Easy cash flow. Being the second most liquid traded commodity in North America, soybeans are extremely easy to market. They can be pre-sold based on the Chicago futures and up to three crop years in advance as well.
Soybeans changed our farm
Earlier in this article, I mentioned that soybeans have revolutionized our farm. Here’s how.
Traditionally, alfalfa has been grown in our area for rotation, disease break, spreading out work load, fixing nitrogen and cash flow. The problem is, very rarely can we put up proper alfalfa (both cuttings) without it getting degraded by rain.
It’s frustrating trying to market a rain-damaged product, often at break-even or worse. I can get every one of these above-mentioned points that alfalfa offers with soybeans, and I don’t require $150,000 to $200,000 worth of specialized equipment to put up hay. Also, we now have summers that are much more enjoyable where we are not constantly irrigating or haying from seeding to harvest.
As a crop to help out on the farm, soybeans would be something to look at. They will not be suited to all farms and all management systems, but they do have some good potential to help spread risk. Variety selection very is important, as we have found out.
Soybeans are working well for us, and could be a way to help diversify your farm. †