Another record shattered as Manitoba soybean acreage soars

It’s no surprise why: Low production costs, high prices, 
improved varieties and availability of crop insurance is making “beans” a big money-maker

Manitoba farmers planted more soybeans in 2012 than ever before — but the record won’t last long.

“If things go as planned, with a good spring and the seed supplies are there, I think reaching the million mark won’t be too difficult next year,” said Dennis Lange, a farm production adviser based in Altona.

This year saw 845,000 acres of soybeans planted, up from 578,000 last year. That sharply rising figure shows just how quickly Manitoba farmers have taken up the legume, Lange said during a recent field tour hosted by the Westman Agricultural Diversification Organization (WADO).

Soybeans are attractive because they’re relatively cheap to grow and fetch a good price. Seed costs are about $100 per acre, plus inoculant, and with herbicide-tolerant varieties, weed control is fairly straightforward, said Lange.

Yields this year in the Melita area are coming in at 35 to 40 bushels an acre, with the Brandon area reaching the 50-bushel-an-acre range, said WADO manager Scott Day.

“You do have the opportunity for very high yields with this crop from what we’ve seen in trials in other years,” said Day, adding that late-season moisture is key.

Garth Johnston, a crop consultant with Farmer’s Edge, said the Virden-area fields he’s seen were yielding 30 to 35 bushels, and with beans currently fetching $14 per bushel, soybean farmers will be very happy, he added.

“I think it’s going to be nice,” he said with a laugh. “It’s going to help guys, especially looking at how low the canola yields were.”

Farmers on the field tour were given some tips to push those returns even higher.

To avoid shatter losses at harvest, the combine header must be set low enough to skim over a 2×4 laid flat on the ground.

“If you can’t do that, you’ll be losing a lot of yield,” said Johnston, adding that “significant differences” have been seen by farmers harvesting the crop with flex headers or flex draper headers.

Seedbed preparation with a roller makes a big difference for keeping pod height in a range that can be more easily picked up, said Lange.

Inoculant is critical, he added. Liquid inoculant should be used on the seed, along with a granular form placed in the seed row.

“Soil testing is important, too,” he said. “If you have a field with 80 to 90 pounds of available nitrogen, you don’t want to be putting soybeans in that ground.”

That’s because the soybeans, which need 150 to 200 pounds of N to produce a 35-bushel crop, may start off with early, heavy growth and then run out of the nutrient at the pod-filling stage. Too much N too early makes the plant lazy, and poor nodulation may occur, he said.

Resist the temptation to seed too early, said Lange, because a crop that comes out of the ground quicker is always healthier than one left struggling with suboptimal soil temperatures.

“Ideally, we like to say 10 C,” he said.

The ideal seeding time appears to be from May 15 to 20, as the frost risk is high when harvesting beans seeded after that time.

Soybeans like phosphorus, but prefer it to be already present in the soil. Putting down more than 10 pounds per acre can cause damage, especially in a dry year, so it’s best to build P soil reserves up with other crops first.

“Most guys don’t even put any phosphate down with the seed,” said Lange.

The area south of the Trans-Canada has good potential for adding more soybeans to crop rotations, and more growers are taking it up now that crop insurance is available, said Day.

However, he noted soybeans leave very little residue on the surface — even less than peas — so areas with lighter soils might be left vulnerable to erosion, especially if soybeans are grown two years in a row.

“Putting it into wheat stubble is probably not a bad idea in this area,” said Day.

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