Trials evaluate soybeans for southern Alberta

TILLEY, Alta. — Alberta farmers planted 15,000 acres of soybeans this year, compared to 300,000 acres in Saskatchewan and 1.3 million acres in Manitoba.

Manjula Bandara, an Alberta Agriculture researcher at the Crop Development Centre in Brooks, said the variety of crop options available to farmers, particularly in southern Alberta, is a big factor in keeping the province’s farmers away from the crop.

So is control of white mould in irrigated soybeans, as well as concerns about frost before crop maturity.

Bandara and other provincial and federal researchers are studying soybeans with the goal of identifying the best genetics, row spacing, seed density and irrigation regimen in southern Alberta.

They evaluated 18 varieties last year on four sites — Brooks, Bow Island, Lethbridge and Medicine Hat — but more data is needed before conclusions can be drawn.

Patrick Fabian of Fabian Seed Farms near Tilley has had large-scale test plots for several years and is in the business of selling seed.

“Last year was the first year that we had, consistently, a number of fields that averaged 50 bushels,” Fabian told participants at a field day he hosted earlier this month.

“We’ve had a couple producers that broke into the 60 mark, but where they hit white mould, it nailed them … so they ended up with an average yield of 50.”

Additional research is vital to increase Alberta’s soybean acres, he said.

“We’re seeing more popularity with soybeans in southern Alberta, but we want to see what we can do to take it past the 60 bu. mark to make it effective and profitable on irrigation.”

Fabian has several plots of soybeans from Thunder Seeds Canada this year.

Ron Gendzelevich, president of Thunder Seeds and Quarry Seeds, said white mould isn’t usually an issue in other soybean growing areas, where the crop isn’t irrigated and weather tends to be dry in August when soybeans are maturing.

“I think it’s more of a water management issue and I think that’s being addressed by the extension people in Brooks,” said Gendzelevich.

Halting irrigation after flowering will likely be key, but ideal timing will have to be determined through research, he said.

Experiments in row spacing will also be helpful. Gendzelevich is enthusiastic about Thunder Seeds’ light sensitive varieties, which sense day length and start to set seed accordingly.

In a later interview, he said his competitors in the seed business pay much attention to soybean maturity based on heat units, but he thinks light sensitivity is a better guide to variety selection and success.

Gendzelevich said he was among the first agronomists to see the potential for soybeans in Western Canada, but it took years of knocking on American seed companies’ doors to get them to recognize it.

He believes average 60 bu. per acre soybean crops are possible in southern Alberta, partly because issues surrounding minimum tillage and colder spring soils have been addressed through genetics, seed treatments and inoculants.

“Light sensitive varieties, they know when to finish flowering and finish up, so back off your seeding,” he said. “Just wait a week. Go watch the Stanley Cup playoffs.”

He also recommended row cropping, which should help address white mould risks.

Soybeans don’t require nitrogen because of their own nitrogen-fixing ability, but they do require attention to soil phosphate.

Gendzelevich said his company is getting to know southern Alberta, as it has other parts of the Prairies, and he thinks soybeans can be part of the cropping mix.

“This area is kind of unique because it can be very warm here and you can get some very cold nights, and soybeans don’t like cold nights, so they go limp,” he said.

“What happens typically in that period when it does get cold … the plant shuts down, and it shuts down for maybe as much as two days. We look for varieties that (have) a little less heat requirement, but also varieties that, if it gets late, they finish off quickly.”

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