In 2013, grain market analyst Bruce Burnett predicted in five years Manitoba farmers would be planting just as many soybeans as canola.
The intentionally provocative forecast was made to underscore how the combination of a warmer climate, improved soybean varieties and favourable returns can influence farmers’ planting decisions.
But new soybean-planting records have been set every year since, including 2016, making Burnett’s prognostication less rhetorical and perhaps even possible.
The Manitoba Agricultural Services Corporation’s (MASC) latest data — part of an annual report of variety and crop market share issued in late summer every year — shows Manitoba farmers insured a record 1.64 million acres of soybeans (including 78,600 acres of pedigreed seed), up 300,000 acres or 22 per cent from last year and up 65 per cent since 2013. Soybeans remain Manitoba’s third-highest-acreage crop.
Insured 2016 canola acres of 3.2 million are flat. The oilseed is still Manitoba’s top-acreage crop.
Insured red spring wheat acres of 2.2 million fell 300,000 — the same number of acres that soybeans increased by. Red spring wheat accounts for the second-highest number of acres in Manitoba. (All insured wheat totals almost 2.8 million acres.)
“Soybean acres in Manitoba are going up at the rate I expected,” Burnett, who in 2013 was a weather and market analyst with the CWB and today has the same position with G3, said in an interview Aug. 18. “It would be a push to be equal to the canola area in another two years obviously, but it is going to be close.”
Assuming a 22 per cent increase in soybean plantings in 2017 and 2018 it would bring insured acres to almost 2.5 million by 2018. If some of the 700,000-acre increase came from canola, the gap between the two wouldn’t be that large.
“It does depend on the relative price of these crops,” Burnett said. “Under different price scenarios you could see it where soybeans would get close to canola in the total area in Manitoba.”
Manitoba soybean acres could hit two million acres in two years, but getting much higher could be a challenge, said Dennis Lange, Manitoba Agriculture industry development specialist — pulses. Wheat and canola currently account for almost half of Manitoba’s 11.5 million acres of cultivated land. Soybeans’ gain will have to come from some other crops.
“That’s tough to do after a while because certain crops have their niche,” he said.
No matter what happens both Lange and Burnett agree soybeans have a strong foothold as a viable crop in Manitoba.
That was far from certain when Burnett and others experimented with soybeans in the 1980s, with limited success. At the time Baldur Stefenansson, one of the fathers of canola, suggested farmers focus on that crop because canola was better adapted to Manitoba. Farmers did and canola stole King Wheat’s crown.
MASC records show only 118 farmers insured 10,932 acres of soybeans in 1998. Average yield — 30.1 bushels an acre.
Eighteen years later insured soybean acres have increased 150 fold and the five year average yield is 35 bushels an acre.
Another record for soybean plantings in 2016 doesn’t surprise Francois Labelle, executive director of the Manitoba Pulse and Soybeans Association.
“In the spring when we were doing our projections we had in our minds the acres would be at least 1.5 million and maybe higher,” he said in an interview Aug. 18. “To be at the 1.6-million-acre range we’re not surprised.”
A combination of economic and agronomic factors makes soybeans appealing to Manitoba farmers, Labelle said. Soybean prices are relatively good compared to other crops and production costs are a bit lower. Farmers don’t need to apply nitrogen because soybeans make their own, but seed prices are higher than for some other crops.
“Soybeans, as some people have said, have a snorkel at times,” he said. “They have been handling the moisture very well. It makes it attractive in a year like this and in some of the past years we’ve had with excess moisture. That makes people look more at them.”
But the crop isn’t foolproof and in the years to come farmers will need to ensure proper crop rotation or risk more soybean disease, insect and weed pests, he warned.
Other acreage highlights
Canada Prairie Spring wheat acres jumped 1,419 per cent — the biggest percentage increase of all insured crops. And it was due to one new variety — AAC Penhold.
Lentils had the second-biggest percentage increase at 483 per cent. Still, that only brought insured acres to 9,957. Double that many acres were seeded by farmers enrolled in crop insurance, but who opted not to insure their lentils, a MASC official said.
Insured field pea plantings are up 153 per cent to 162,078 acres.
Insured acres of non-oil sunflowers were down 50 per cent to 31,170. That was the biggest decline in percentage terms of all crops.
The biggest decline in acres is 300,000 for red spring wheat, down 12 per cent drop from 2015.
For the second consecutive year L252 Invigor is the most popular canola accounting for 31 per cent of Manitoba’s canola acres versus 22 per cent in 2015.
The most popular Canada Western Red Spring wheat is AAC Brandon with 28 per cent of the acres. Carberry, which was No. 1 in 2015, dropped to third with just two per cent market share.
Faller, a member of the Canada Northern Hard Red (CNHR) wheat class, is the most popular “feed wheat” with 61 per cent of the insured acres. Last year it was No. 1 with 48 per cent.
The most popular insured soybean, for the second year in a row, is DeKalb 23-60RY with seven per cent of the acres, followed closely by Syngenta’s S007-44RR2Y at six per cent.