The Great Soybean Jump

By John Dietz

From early 2017, it was expected that soybeans would be a popular crop for the season. Why? 
Early in 2017, it was expected that soybean would be a popular crop in Manitoba. That has proven to be true.

As of June 1, soybean seed sales in Manitoba were up about 25 percent or more over 2016, according to one industry source.

On June 5, Stats Canada was projecting 2,200,000 acres of soybeans in Manitoba as compared to 1,600,000 acres just a year earlier. That increase, if accurate, would be more than 35 percent.

The Stats Can projected increase for Saskatchewan was even heftier, suggesting farmers there might put in three times as many soybeans as in 2016 – or about 730,000 acres.

It could be said that soybean acres are “jumping” on the eastern Prairies. Why?

Growing Soybeans asked Manitoba Pulse and Soybean Growers association extension coordinator, Laura Schmidt, for her thoughts on the expansion.

“One reason we’ve been able to have such a large expansion of soybean acreage is the development of early-maturing, high-yielding varieties that can deal with Manitoba’s relatively short growing season.” Schmidt says.

Back 20 years ago, soybeans were a small, experimental crop on a few farms in the Red River Valley. Nobody had experience with them. They were sensitive to late spring frosts. They took too long to mature. There were questions about inoculant, quality, storage, and marketing.

The first official record of soybeans in Manitoba is from 2001, with 50,000 seed acres recorded by Stats Canada. Plantings jumped to 130,000 acres the following year, then stayed in the 100,000- to 350,000-acre range for seven years.

Production expanded quickly in the southeast – to a place of near-saturation. Now, soybeans are becoming mainstream in western and northwest Manitoba, as well as eastern Saskatchewan.

The oilseed hit a half-million seeded acres in 2010, and a million in 2013. That same year was the first time that Saskatchewan kept an official record for soybean acres. It began with 170,000 acres in 2013.

This crop year, the big oilseed that migrated out of the American Midwest is being grown close to the northern limits of farming on the eastern Prairies. In Manitoba’s northwest region, fields with short-season soybeans are pretty common close to Dauphin and even found at Swan River.

Along the drier southwestern edge of Manitoba, the soybean has spilled over into even drier areas of southeastern Saskatchewan.

In short, for adaptation, soybean has rapidly out-distanced the former bean fields where it once grew and now is competitive with Prairie cereals and oilseeds. In effect, the soybean is border-to-border throughout Manitoba and competing for field space with canola and wheat.

And unlike cereals, soybean varieties are available with genetic resistance to non-selective herbicides. Glyphosate-resistant soybeans were first grown in Canada in Ontario in 1997.

New traits have been stacked since then. Today’s growers can choose non-GMO varieties or they can go to Roundup Ready 2® or Roundup Ready 2 Xtend® varieties. The newest lines tolerate a mix of glyphosate and dicamba, which withers virtually anything else growing in the same field.

Better agronomics
Soybean acreage has been climbing quickly, Schmidt says, and it might have to do with farmers learning to grow the once-unfamiliar crop. Some of the benefits being discovered are that beans require fewer inputs and enable the grower to clean up weeds.

“Research has been conducted to validate and improve the recommendations that we tell our farmers. We now have recommendations for our specific growing regions, to help with the adoption and implementation of growing soybeans,” she says.

“We’ve developed a variety selection guide to assist growers, outlining the different maturity zones as well as other characteristics that may be beneficial to varietal decision-making,” she says.

These can include:
• Zone maturity maps, including the zone frost-free period;
• Varietal development guides for the production system (Genuity® Roundup Ready®, Roundup Ready 2 Xtend®, or non-GMO), days to maturity, high-yield, iron deficiency chlorosis rating, Phytophthora root rot resistance, soybean cyst nematode resistance, and lodging rating.

“Further variety development to earlier maturing varieties has really expanded our acreage choices available to farmers,” Schmidt says.

“These varieties go into the ground at the same time but they require a shorter window to actually come to seed, so you are able to harvest them within your growing season window. They mature earlier but also yield quite competitively. That has really benefitted growers and encouraged them to grow soybeans on their farms.

“In addition, they are improving other characteristics. For instance, in wetter areas of the province, growers have better choices for resistance to root rot. It allows them to select varieties that are able to mature in their growing zone and, at the same time, allows them to select varieties that are more suited to their fields.”

This spring, early warm soil temperatures allowed some early planting in the south-central region. Then, a frost event occurred on May 19 in the south-central region, after some soybeans had emerged.

“It wasn’t a killing frost. It was zero to minus 1.2° Celsius that morning for about five hours at Carman. Killing frost requires an extended period below minus 2.2° Celsius. If it did cause some plant mortality, the crops will most likely continue to grow,” she says.

More money
Barriers to production have come down. Weed control options have improved, and more.

“Although the cost of seed for soybeans is quite high, once you put your crop in the ground, your in-crop [expenses] are relatively low, and you can get away with reduced nitrogen. Guys are saving quite a bit of money with the inputs for the crop,” Schmidt says.

Finally, despite the growing acreage and increasing supply of soybeans from Manitoba growers, the market signals have stayed positive.

“Demand has been growing, as well as acreage. Soybean prices have been able to stay high despite increasing supply. The market dipped a few years ago, but prices have been relatively good for a long time,” Schmidt says.