NorthStar News

After Three Years, Soybeans Earning a Place on This Saskatchewan Farm

Written by John Dietz

Southeast Saskatchewan seed grower Brent McCarthy is back in school, learning to grow soybeans.

Learning things is a big part of the farming agenda for Corning, Saskatchewan seed grower Brent McCarthy. For this year, he’s looking forward to his fourth crop of soybeans and a few more acres. 

McCarthy had success with his soybeans in 2015, and talked about some of that experience in the previous issue of Growing Soybeans, and we thought it would be interesting to hear what he is planning for 2016 to achieve the same level of success or higher. 

McCarthy Seed Farm is located in the Kipling area of southeast Saskatchewan. The farm produces about 3,500 acres of pedigreed seed, mostly cereals and pulses, out of 4,500 seed acres. 

“Last year (2015), finally, I think we had success,” McCarthy said in early January. “The first two years were basically a steep learning curve for us. We learned to manage different things. We got it right and had good luck this year.”        

The first soybean crop was about 65 acres. They took it to about 240 acres in 2014 and to 350 acres in 2015. This year, they plan to grow about 440 acres. All of it will be in pedigreed seed with Roundup Ready 2 soybeans, supplied by NorthStar Genetics.

“We’ve concentrated on early varieties. Early maturity was our limitation for yield, and NorthStar Genetics had some of the earliest on the market,” McCarthy says. 

Now he has experience with three early lines: NSC Reston RR2Y, NSC Moosomin RR2Y, and NSC Watson RR2Y. 

“I very much like Watson. It has the maturity. It’s the one that will be well suited for here,” McCarthy says.

What he’s also learned, and this is important, is that soybeans are sensitive to location. The best choice for Corning, SK may not be at all suited to a farm at Moosomin. 

“It will be Watson this year on the majority of our soybean acres, but I’d like to try a few varieties. Soybeans do seem to be area-specific,” he says. “A variety that does well in southwest Manitoba may not yield as good here, and we’re not that far away. You need to find the variety that performs best in your area.”

NorthStar describes NSC Watson RR2Y as its earliest variety, at 2225 heat units, suited to the black soil zone of Saskatchewan as well as dark brown and brown zones. However, the heat unit need for NSC Moosomin RR2Y is less than 2300 CHUs and for NSC Reston RR2Y, only 2325 CHU. 

“Watson came in a week earlier than the Reston, side by side on the same half-section,” he says. “For me, that takes the security risk out of the equation. Now we have soybean maturity similar to flax, in my opinion, in this area. Now we can focus on the agronomics, the yield, and marketing.”

His yields for the two varieties were in line with the area production, around 32 bushels per acre. 

The two were very similar except for one other detail – the Watson beans closed their canopy earlier.

“Watson seemed to fill in earlier and cover the ground earlier than Reston,” McCarthy says. “That helps in your weed management and in keeping your crop clean, which goes right back to yield. When you look at all the factors in growing soybeans, covering the ground is pretty important.”

Weed control

Early, he learned that soybeans are not very competitive compared to wheat or canola. Weed control was a problem in his first soybean fields.

They need a warm seedbed, so they’re waiting in the shed until the May long weekend. Weed control has to wait, too, until just before planting. Then, they may need until early July to close the canopy.  

Glyphosate doesn’t touch the volunteer canola in soybeans when both have the glyphosate-resistance gene, even if the soybeans are planted in wheat stubble. 

“We grow all Roundup Ready canola. That issue has kicked us in the butt in past years. We have to manage it,” he says. “We typically seed our crops into heavy stubble but, for beans, we get the dirt black so it warms up better.” 

For the burnoff before seeding, McCarthy trusts glyphosate and Express SG herbicide to control the volunteer canola, grasses, and broadleaf weeds that are well established. In crop this year he used glyphosate and full-rate Viper herbicide.

“We had very good luck with that tank mix. It rained again and by the time August came around, a little volunteer canola was flowering in the soybeans but we didn’t think it affected the yield,” he says. “You do need good weed control for all of June.”

To this point, the grower hasn’t needed to invest in disease control for his soybeans. Sclerotinia disease symptoms appeared in his Reston soybeans in 2014, but it was below the threshold for spraying.

“With that dry July, we had no risk of sclerotinia this year. Sclerotinia can show up, and it’s definitely an issue, but not in a big enough way yet to warrant spraying,” he says.

Machinery

McCarthy likes the fact that he can put in a soybean crop and harvest it with only one real adjustment in his equipment. He solid seeds the beans and other crops with a Bourgault para-link drill. He shoots for 200,000 seeds per acre, at the same 0.75-inch depth as his canola. 

A land roller is essential for pushing down stones after seeding, but he already had that for his peas. He also had a belt conveyor for loading the peas, and now the soybeans, but points out that an auger is “good enough” for commercial soybeans going to an elevator.

“If you’ve grown peas or lentils you can easily grow soybeans,” he says.

His one machinery purchase was a flex header for harvest, to shave the profit off the ground. He used a rigid header the first year. After that, he invested. 

He says, “I think a rigid header is fine for a first year grower. You are going to miss a few soybeans because you do have to scrape the ground pretty close. I sure like the flex head. It does a nice job now, and we can use it on our peas and lentils.”

Overall, given the markets and experience, McCarthy is comfortable with putting 10 percent of his land into the next soybean crop. 

“It’s not a lot of risk. You can still have a yellow pea or a red lentil or other pulse crop,” he says. 

Soybeans are a new crop for anywhere in Saskatchewan. Lots of growers are watching the performance of the beans and the experiences of early innovators.

“We’ve made the mistakes,” McCarthy says. “To be successful, weed control is number one. Keep this crop clean. Put them into warm enough soil with the right variety, and right plant population, right inoculant, do the due diligence on weed control, and be prepared for the harvest. If you do that, I think you’re going to have success with them.”