Boissevain-area farmer Ben Heide was looking for an alternative to peas when he tried growing soybeans for the first time three years ago.
His field peas were struggling with root rot. As well, his family was trying to grow less canola and wanted to spread out their labour. Soybeans seemed like an obvious choice as they are a later-season crop, and they appear to be more tolerant of excess moisture.
“(Peas) were having root rot issues the second and third time around in the rotation. Even leaving five and six years between,” said Heide at a Manitoba Pulse Growers Association tour in Brandon last week.
Heide is among the growing ranks of southwestern Manitoba farmers who have turned to soybeans after watching wet weather and disease decimate other pulse crops on their farms.
Many were out to last week’s tour featuring research plot experiments including soybean residue management, phosphorus fertilization and the effects of soil temperature at different planting dates.
“We need to take the research we’ve done in the (Red River) valley and elsewhere and apply it to these new growing conditions so we can answer the questions that are relevant to this production area,” said Kristen Podolsky, production specialist at the MPGA.
Soybeans weren’t an option for the province’s southwest until recently as the available varieties weren’t well suited to the shorter growing seasons and zero-tillage farming methods, which tend to leave soils colder for longer in the spring.
Crop insurance data in Yield Manitoba show no recorded soybean acreage in Risk Area 2, which includes Boissevain, before 2012. Yield Manitoba only reports yields for varieties grown on more than 500 acres and by more than two growers.
But better-adapted varieties have made it more possible for farmers to try the crop. In 2012, there were 10 growers with 569 total acres of soybeans in Risk Area 2. Last year, that number more than tripled.
The Heide farm has since reduced the number of pea acres sown. “Won’t say we won’t grow them,” Heide said, “but soybeans deal with the moisture a lot better than peas. I’d say 100 times better, probably.”
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Heide’s father, George Heide, says soybean crops are expensive to seed, because of the cost of seed and inoculants. But they are relatively easy to grow. And ultimately worth it.
“They look good,” he said. “Quite resilient. And good return on investments.”
Newdale-area farmer Andrew Dalgarno agrees. He is well into his fourth year growing soybeans. “It’s going pretty good,” he said. He introduced the crop so he’d have another tool in his rotation.
Yield Manitoba reports no soybean acreage for Risk Area 6, which includes Newdale, until 2013, when 8,028 acres were reported.
Dalgarno said he likes soybeans because they fix their own nitrogen.
“Once you get them figured out on your rotation you can front load on a previous crop or you can side band it with beans if you have a drill set up for side banding,” he said.
Jonothan Hodson, who farms near Lenore, started growing soybeans just over a year ago. Before that he’d grown peas for 20 years.
“The rains are making it awfully tough to stay away from disease,” he said.
He said he’s growing soybeans because he wanted to get back to a one-in-four canola rotation. Hodson said he attended the tour to learn about long-term crop management.
“Soybeans are here to stay,” he said. “So we’d better learn to grow them really well.”