Soybeans are close to having a good fit in southern Saskatchewan crop rotations, but two farmers who grew the crop for several years, say it would be good if plant breeding could improve drought tolerance and really good if there was a way to get lower pods on the plant stem at least a little further off the ground.
Trent Richards and Robin Cristo, who both farm in the Assiniboia area about 110 km southwest of Moose Jaw, say they learned during the past 10 years after growing several seasons of soybeans there is an opportunity for the legume to help extend crop rotations, but with relatively low yields in their part of the province, the economics of growing soybeans is marginal at best.
Why it matters: Soybean varieties with improved drought tolerance and lower pods located higher up the plant stem may draw more attention from southwest Saskatchewan producers.
“I was looking for something to extend my crop rotation,” says Cristo, who grows durum, canola, lentils and, for a few years, soybeans. “Soybeans aren’t susceptible to the same diseases that affect lentils, so they had potential to work well in rotation.”
It was a similar story at the Richards farm, where the crop rotation includes peas, lentils, chickpeas, durum and spices. “Pulse crops can do well here,” says Richards. “But they are susceptible to a number of diseases, so I was looking for something that could be included in rotation as an alternative to peas.”
Each farmer had five or six years of experience growing soybeans before they decided to drop them from rotation, largely because of economics. Richards says in wetter growing seasons he has seen soybean yields up to 45 bushels per acre.
“But that was the exception,” he says. Both farmers say under more average southern Saskatchewan growing conditions, yields averaged in the 25 to 28 bushel per acre range.
“All crops need moisture,” says Cristo. “But even with spring moisture to get the crop started, soybeans need moisture particularly through July and August to help the crop produce pods and yield. And, traditionally, July and August can be the dry months in southern Saskatchewan.” There just wasn’t moisture to make and fill seed pods.
“The fact is, there are other crops you can grow with higher value that provide a greater return per acre,” says Richards.
Both farmers grew soybeans with similar production practices. They used their conventional grain and oilseed equipment to seed and harvest the crop. Following a pre-seed herbicide burnoff, Roundup Ready varieties were seeded directly into standing stubble. Richards used a Bourgault air drill on 10-inch centres, while Cristo seeded with a Bourgault drill with 12.6-inch row spacing.
Both applied a double inoculant — liquid and granular formulations — to seed to improve nitrogen fixation. Richards used a light treatment with a Great Plains tiller to help the soil warm before seeding in mid-May, while Cristo seeded when soil had reached a recommended 10 C. He did follow seeding with a very light treatment with a tine harrow and field rolling to get the field as level as possible for combining.
Both farmers said even with field rolling right after seeding, it was still a challenge to get the combine header low enough to pick up all of the available yield.
“It is a nice crop in that it stands well,” says Cristo. “A couple of years there was even snow on the crop before harvest and it stood well. It is not like peas or lentils that tend to fall over. But even though it stands well, some of the best pods, best production of the plant, is on the lower part of the stem right against the ground.”
Both producers, with combines equipped with flex headers, say it was a challenge to pick up the lowest pods without also picking up any rocks in the field.
While soybeans aren’t quite ready to be included in their long-term rotations, these farmers weren’t ruling them out as future cropping options.
“In many ways it is a nice crop, and I believe it has plenty of potential,” says Cristo. “Even in the few years that I grew it, I saw improvements with new varieties each year. And I am thinking with the next generation of varieties there will be even further improvements, making the crop more adaptable in more areas to different growing conditions.”