Hot weather blessed soybeans, blasted canola

Yields vary with temperatures | Weather conditions over the last several years 
seem to indicate soybean yields are more stable than canola, at least in Manitoba

Without a doubt, 2012 was a challenging year for canola growers in eastern Manitoba. With an average daytime high of 29.3 C in July, temperatures above 30 C were the norm that summer.

The near record heat combined with minimal rain blasted canola crops during flowering, causing yields to crash to 15-20 bushels per acre on many farms.

The extremely hot and dry conditions didn’t have the same effect on Manitoba’s soybean crop. Many fields in the eastern half of the province yielded 35 to 40 bu. per acre, surprising growers who were expecting 25 bu. per acre.

While it’s unfair to judge canola and soybeans based on yields during a single summer, 2012 is similar to a broader body of yield statistics in Manitoba.

Those numbers suggest that canola is riskier than soybeans because of yield variability.

The notion that soybeans are safe and canola is dicey cuts against the prevailing wisdom in Manitoba. Growers and agronomists often say an early frost could eradicate the soybean crop: therefore soybeans are riskier than canola.

That may be true, but data from the last several years indicates that canola yields are highly variable and soybean yields are relatively stable in the province.

Statistics from Manitoba Agricultural Services Corp. (MASC), the provincial crop insurer, show that InVigor 5440 is one of the most popular canola hybrids over the last few years. In spite of its appeal, 5440 failed to generate consistent yields from 2009 to 2013. In fact, few, if any, canola hybrids produced consistent yields during that period.

Average yields from 5440 swung wildly between 2009 and 2013 in Manitoba, ranging from 27 to 46 bu. per acre.

The yield variability is even more dramatic if the data is broken down into individual crop insurance areas.

In risk area 14, eastern Manitoba, canola yields for 5440 were 18 bu. per acre in 2010 and 2012. In 2013, a perfect year for growing canola, the average yield in the region was 44 bu. per acre.

In the Dauphin-Ste. Rose du Lac area, 5440 yields averaged 45 bu. per acre in 2009 and sank to 22 bu. per acre in 2012.

In comparison the most popular soybean variety in Manitoba, 24-10RY, a Dekalb product, averaged 39 bu. per acre across the province in 2011, 37 bu. in 2012 and 40 bu. in 2013.

Many soybean varieties have a brief track record in Manitoba and some are specific to the Red River Valley, so it’s difficult to definitively conclude that soybeans perform more consistently than canola using MASC data.

Nonetheless, Statistics Canada data for Manitoba indicate soybeans have repeatedly produced average yields in the 30 bu. per acre range since 2007. Over the same period average canola yields have varied from year to year, ranging from the upper 20s to low 40s.

In early August it’s impossible to predict how soybeans will perform compared to canola this year but many soybean fields in western Manitoba and eastern Saskatchewan tolerated the 150-200 millimetres of rain that soaked fields in late June.

“We’ve still got some standing water … (but) the soybeans are greening up and they’re coming right back,” said Stornoway, Sask., grower Cortney Solonenko in July. “(I’m) definitely impressed by the way they handled the water.”

In contrast, the extreme rainfall drowned out hundreds of canola fields, leading to patchy and thin crop stands.

Hugh Earl, a University of Guelph plant science professor, said there’s an explanation for the yield consistency of soybeans compared to canola.

“I always say: canola is a high management crop and any idiot can grow corn or soybeans,” said Earl, who studies the physiological basis of yield determination for corn, soybeans and canola. “There are so few problems (with soybeans) compared to canola.”

Earl said the soybean plant is highly resilient and can tolerant a wide range of conditions, from flood to drought.

“2012 was a very, very dry year here (in Ontario). We had a 40 day period where we had like four mm of rain but you couldn’t stop it. You couldn’t stop the crop,” he said. “We had near record soybean yields. The provincial average was nearly 45 bushels.”

Earl said an early frost remains a risk in Western Canada, but with sufficient heat, beans are a better option than canola.

“Canola is a much more difficult crop. In terms of yield stability, in terms of the pests we deal with (in Ontario).”

Andy Swenson, agribusiness and applied economics professor at North Dakota State University, said soybeans have become the most popular crop in the state because they offer consistent returns on investment.

“It’s been our most stable profit crop. It seems like every year… it’s always in the black,” said Swenson, who helps assemble NDSU cost of production estimates.

This year North Dakota growers seeded an estimated six million acres of soybeans, yet another record for the state.

“First year in history we’re going to have more soybean acres than spring wheat acres,” Swenson said. “Cass County here in Fargo has been top soybean county in the nation for several years.”

Swenson said soybeans are more profitable than canola in most regions of North Dakota, with the exception of the northeast.

“If you get a strong enough canola (yield)… they’ll edge out soybeans (for profitability).”

Manitoba Agriculture 2014 cost of production estimates show canola offers a better return than soybeans in Western Manitoba but the data is skewed by a lack of historical data for beans and a couple of assumptions.

Excluding fixed costs and labour for the sake of simplicity, it costs $225.34 per acre to seed InVigor canola and $187.82 per acre to seed Roundup Ready soybeans.

Manitoba Agriculture estimates the average canola yield in the western half of the province at 33 bu. per acre and the average soybean yield at 22.5 bu. per acre.

Assuming prices of $10.65 per bu. for canola and $10 per bu. for beans, the estimates produce gross revenues of $351.45 for canola and $225 for beans.

The soybean yield figure seems low, considering over the last few years MASC has reported yields of 35 to 40 bu. per acre in non-traditional soybean regions of Manitoba.

Further, the canola average of 33 bu. per acre doesn’t tell the entire story because yields swing wildly around the median. In the Dauphin-Ste Rose region, InVigor 5440 yielded 45 bu. per acre in 2009, 25 bu. in 2010, 22 bu. in 2012 and 39 bu. in 2013.

Re-jigging the figures for actual results from Dauphin-Ste. Rose in 2012 and assuming an equal price of $10 per bu., soybeans would have reaped $350 to $400 per acre and canola $220 per acre.

With a weather wreck average soybean yields might drop to 15-20 bu. per acre, but the financial risk of such an outcome would be less because input costs are lower.

Aside from financials, many Manitoba growers have grown weary of the agronomic challenges of canola, particularly disease and pest pressure.

“I’m really tired of babysitting canola,” said La Salle grower Albert Turski in 2012. “Every week, it’s spray this, spray that, spray this.”

Gary Smart, Manitoba Agriculture business development specialist, said it’s difficult to compare the economic returns of the two crops because beans are often seeded on the best land under optimum conditions.

“Maybe canola hasn’t gotten as fair a shake in the past few years,” he said. “There’s been canola floated on or flown on… and maybe it hasn’t been (planted) under as good of conditions…. Soybeans, if the conditions aren’t right… guys won’t put them in. They’ll flip to canola.”

Anastasia Kubinec, Manitoba Agriculture oilseed specialist, said describing soybeans as a safer crop than canola is an “interesting” concept. But she isn’t convinced it’s correct.

“That might be the case in some areas of Manitoba but I don’t know if it’s the case in all areas of Manitoba,” she said.

“Especially if we get our normal, moderate temperature summers. If we have a cold summer soybeans are going to be very, very late…. Alternatively we need those rains in early August to make sure we have good soybean yields. In canola… if we don’t get the rains it will still yield.”

Smart said cost of production estimates are based on regional averages, not conditions and management practices on individual farms.

“We encourage everyone to look at their COPs, but make them farm specific,” he said. “It would be nice to know what a side by side comparison, for soybeans and canola, would be for (a) certain area.”

  • 2010 25.0
  • 2012 22.0
  • 2010 18.0
  • 2012 18.0
  • 2008 32.6
  • 2010 31.1
  • 2012 35.6
  • 2008 37.5
  • 2010 32.1
  • 2012 26.7
  • 2011 27 31
  • 2013 50 39

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