Soybeans could change landscape

New varieties | DuPont Pioneer hopes earlier maturing varieties will help expand production

Canada’s leading seed provider is releasing new soybean varieties it hopes will accelerate changes already happening to the prairie agricultural landscape.

DuPont Pioneer plans to sell P001T34R and P002T04R this fall. The two varieties fall into the earliest category of the double zero maturity group for soybeans.

“It’s a new class all by itself,” said Greg Stokke, business director of DuPont Pioneer’s Western Canada commercial unit.

“There isn’t another soybean variety on the market today that has that low of a heat unit.”

The new lines matured one to two days earlier than the earliest soybeans on the market in Pioneer’s Manitoba research trials last year and five to seven days earlier than Pioneer’s best material.

Stokke believes DuPont’s new offerings will greatly expand the region where soybeans can be grown in Western Canada, anticipating they will be planted as far north as Saskatoon.

“I think it will open up several million acres,” he said.

Kevin Elmy, a seed grower from Saltcoats, Sask., thinks Pioneer is overhyping the new varieties.

“Can I get a wet blanket out and just kind of temper that a little?” said the owner of Friendly Acres Seed Farm Inc.

Elmy said it would be an exciting development if the new varieties were true 001 or 002 soybeans, but he doubts that is the case.

Elmy, who has been experimenting with soybeans on his farm since 1999 and growing them as a major part of his rotation since 2006, thinks Pioneer’s trial results were skewed by last year’s abnormally hot summer that delivered 250 to 300 extra corn heat units than usual.

Pioneer claims the new varieties are up to seven days earlier maturing than its 900Y61 variety, but Elmy said the variety is two to three weeks later than the Thunder Seed varieties he grows and sells: TH9002, TH33­003R2Y and TH32004R2Y.

“That only puts (Pioneer’s new varieties) 10 days behind what we have,” he said.

Elmy estimates that Pioneer’s new offerings might add 100,000 acres of soybeans to Western Canada, but he doubts it will be the millions Stokke is anticipating.

Dale Risula, special crops specialist with Saskatchewan Agriculture, thinks what Pioneer is putting on the market could be a major breakthrough.

“It’s kind of exciting actually. I think that could open the door to a lot of new growers in the province,” he said.

Farmers are interested in the crop because it is easy to grow, fits well into rotations, has a huge market for the oil and meal and offers the nitrogen fixing benefits of pulse crops.

Based on Manitoba’s experience, Risula anticipates swift adoption of soybeans in Saskatchewan if seed companies continue to reduce time to maturity and the subsequent risk of frost damage.

“It could grow up to a million acres really rapidly if this variety that they come out with does as they claim,” he said.

Saskatchewan growers are clamouring to get their hands on a soybean variety that reduces the risk of fall frost damage.

“Just from the meetings we’ve had with farmers over this past winter, the interest is skyrocketing,” said Risula.

Stokke said Pioneer will release a new line of soybeans within the next few years that will be in the triple zero maturity group, which will be even better suited to western Canadian growing conditions.

He is also excited about a new early-maturing corn hybrid in the pipeline that could add millions of acres of that crop to the mix.

Saskatchewan agriculture minister Lyle Stewart is one farmer who intends to embrace the early-maturing soybean and corn varieties.

“In future years, we’ll be growing both of those on our own farm, and I know my neighbours and probably the vast majority of the farmers in the province will at some point,” he said.

Manitoba has been the early adopter of the two crops. Growers in that province planted 800,000 acres of soybeans last year and as of March 31, intended to seed 1.08 million acres this year, according to Statistics Canada.

There was no official number for soybean acres in Saskatchewan, but Risula estimates farmers seeded 50,000 to 70,000 acres last year in the province’s southeast.

Stokke said seed supply of the new soybean variety will likely be constrained next year, although that depends on what the yields are like this summer.

“We’ve been anticipating strong demand on these varieties, so we have been building as much supply as we possibly can,” he said.

DuPont has developed a statistical model based on the Manitoba experience to forecast how many acres of corn and soybeans could be planted in Western Canada in the next 10 to 15 years as earlier maturing lines hit the market.

Stokke said the model is predicting eight million acres of the two crops, but that is a conservative estimate based on releasing the varieties into the marketplace with no public awareness campaign.

The forecast is also based on growers following one-in-three year or one-in-four year rotations, which is an unrealistic assumption.

“Once you get into corn and beans, it’s usually every other year,” said Stokke.

Elmy predicted that Saskatchewan farmers will grow three million acres of soybeans within three years, calling the crop a “no-brainer.”

He has been averaging slightly below 30 bushels per acre on his farm near Yorkton, Sask., in addition to replenishing the soil with nitrogen.

He said it will take a lot longer for corn to take off in the province because the corn he planted in mid-May last year on fertile soybean ground contained 28 percent moisture despite receiving 300 more heat units than usual.

So what crops are going to lose ground to corn and soybeans?

Stokke thinks the newcomers could threaten canola in Manitoba’s Red River Valley, peas in southern Saskatchewan, lentils in west-central Saskatchewan and cereals across the Prairies.

Risula said soybeans will continue usurping bean acres and provide stiff competition for canola.

“Based on what I was hearing from a lot of the growers, it seemed like canola was the one they were wanting to replace,” he said.

Rick White, general manager of the Canadian Canola Growers Association, doesn’t see corn and soybeans as big threats to the canola industry because they will be grown mostly in the far south of the Prairie region.

“I don’t suppose that even these earlier maturing corn and soybean varieties will encroach too far north in the canola growing region,” he said.

If they do, it will give canola growers two profitable crops to add to the rotation.

“It’s good for farmers to have those options.”

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