Manitoba farmers’ affection for soybeans has hit new heights.
Manitoba Agricultural Services Corporation (MASC) projects 2.3 million acres of insured soybeans this year, up 39 per cent from last year’s record and for the first time higher than Canada Western Red Spring wheat.
In 2000, Manitoba farmers insured just 18,419 acres of soybeans. Insured plantings nearly tripled the next year and increased again in 2002 and 2003, fell in 2004 and 2005, increased in 2006, fell in 2007 and since then have gone up every year.
Farmers like soybean because it makes its own nitrogen, tolerates excessive moisture better than many crops, and in the case of Roundup Ready varieties, offers simple and cheap weed-control options.
Soybeans often have fewer disease and insect problems, although as acreage rises there have been more pest problems, including soybean aphids, white mould and iron deficiency chlorosis.
MASC’s insured acreage estimates are based on tabulating 97 per cent of farmers’ 2017 seeded acreage reports. (MASC says more than 90 per cent of Manitoba’s crop acreage is enrolled in AgriInsurance. This year that’s almost 9.9 million acres.)
Insured canola plantings estimated to be 3.17 million acres are unchanged from 2016.
Total insured 2017 wheat plantings, including all classes, are estimated at 2.43 million acres, just 130,000 acres ahead of soybeans.
“The trend is it (soybeans) will eventually exceed all-wheat acres, but we’re not there yet, but it’s close,” Doug Wilcox, MASC’s manager of research administration, said in an interview.
Insured red spring wheat acres fell 12 per cent this year compared to last.
More needed for a crusher
It appears higher soybean acres came from many crops, including wheat and field peas, which at 68,605 acres are down 60 per cent from last year.
“We saw it coming,” Manitoba Pulse & Soybean Growers executive director Francois Labelle said in an interview. “We were surprised, but not really. Soybeans have been a success for a lot of growers crop-wise, yield-wise. The economics are there so a lot of growers either increased acres or we got a lot of new, first-time growers, involved as well. That’s really what pushed the acres up.”
Even more acres are needed to attract the construction of a soybean-crushing plant, Labelle said.
“You’re not going to spend $200 million to $400 million (on a plant based) on one year’s production… from the indications we’ve got, a lot of people are paying attention to the acres, but no one is going to make a decision on investing that kind of money till they feel very comfortable the crop is sustainable at these levels or higher.”
Westman Opportunities Leadership Group (WOLG), which has the backing of the Keystone Agricultural Producers, MPSG and a number of municipalities, is doing the groundwork in hopes of attracting a company to erect a soybean-crushing plant in western Manitoba.
In May 2015 a study prepared for the MPSG and Soy 20/20 concluded Manitoba soybean production could sustain a 2,000-tonne-a-day crushing plant, in part because of poor and expensive rail service to export soybeans and import soybean meal.
“We do strive to tell people to pay attention to the agronomic rotations, but in a lot of cases, at the end of the day it’s the economics that make some of the decisions,” Labelle said. “If we’d had a high price on wheat (at planting time) I think the numbers on wheat would’ve been different and soybeans may or may not have been there.”
Oats and corn up
MASC estimates 172,871 acres were too wet to seed this spring, up 32 from 2016. Most of those acres are around The Pas, David Koroscil, MASC’s manager claim services, said in an interview.
The unseeded acres are considered in the normal range, Koroscil said. The five-year average is 322,168, but skewed by the 987,717 acres too wet to seed in 2014.
MASC estimates insured feed wheat acres dropped 41 per cent to 222,726 in 2017. This category includes the relatively newly registered, high-yielding American spring wheats such as Faller, Prosper and Elgin.
Insured oat plantings, estimated at 461,804 acres, are up 32 per cent from last year, making oats the fourth-biggest crop.
But insured grain corn isn’t far behind at 400,035, up 21 per cent from last year.
Insured silage corn acres are down 10 per cent to 86,424.
Insured flax plantings continue to slide, down 32 per cent to 44,281.
In percentage terms insured hemp grain saw the biggest jump at 203 per cent to 26,405 acres.
Insured acres of barley, sunflowers and perennial ryegrass are all estimated lower.
Insured edible bean acres are estimated at 126,052, up 12 per cent from 2016.