ST. JEAN BAPTISTE, Man. — Farmers have had success growing soybeans in the eastern Prairies, but they need to be ready for non-ideal conditions, says the crop manager of the Kelburn Farm.
Brian Hellegards, manager of Richardson International’s research farm south of Winnipeg, said hot, sunny, dry summers aren’t a safe assumption year after year.
“In the (Red River) Valley, we’re probably forgetting,” he said.
“We’ve had the luxury of a couple of nice years in the past two years.”
Many farmers harvested 50 bushel per acre crops last summer, which they were able to sell at high prices. Disease pressure was light and harvest went well.
However, Hellegards said this might be luring farmers into high-risk practices, such as constantly switching to new soybean varieties and growing medium and long season varieties in areas that have possibilities of frost and cold weather.
“It seems like they’re always changing,” he said. “Now it seems that everyone is looking for that one new variety that is the answer.”
Hellegards said farmers often grow wheat varieties for five or six years and canola varieties for two or three years, but soybean growers have been switching every year. The danger is that they don’t learn all the quirks, abilities and vulnerabilities of the varieties they’re growing.
“Getting familiar with a variety and seeing how it matures or how it performs over two or three years would be a good thing to look at,” Hellegards said.
Farmers should make decisions based on the usual heat unit requirements for their area rather than assume that hot, sunny summers are now the norm.
Hellegards spoke to hopeful soybean farmers near Weyburn, Sask., this winter who seemed to be hoping to seed mid-season varieties.
“We talked to them about how if you’re a new grower, and in an area like that, make sure you grow an early-maturing variety to make sure the variety makes it,” he said.
Farmers in areas where soybeans have been grown for a few years, such as the Red River Valley, need to remember to soil test to ensure they haven’t drained the phosphorus.
Each bushel of soybeans extracts almost one pound of phosphorus, which means reserves can disappear fast with short rotations that include soybeans and canola.
If phosphate levels fall beneath 10 parts per million, “we’re getting to a critical level.”
He said some soil in the Red River Valley has been down to six or seven ppm. Rebuilding a drained phosphorus bank is hard because each part per million requires 20 pounds per acre of phosphate.
“It doesn’t change very quickly, and soybeans will respond below 10 ppm,” said Hellegards.
Farmers also need to remember the importance of inoculants. Many of them are replacing their air drills with planters, but the new machines make it more difficult to apply inoculant, especially with seeds that have already been treated.
However, Hellegards said it’s the most effective way to boost yields.
“To me, it’s cheap insurance. If I can get a seven bushel response, (it would be crazy to not do it).”
Hellegards also cautioned farmers to be prepared to apply fungicide because the dry weather of the last two years probably won’t continue.