Three million & climbing

Prairie farmers appear to be getting a good start on their efforts to meet Soy Canada’s ambitious soybean targets. Statistics Canada’s first seeding intention survey of the year has found that farmers plan to grow almost three million acres of the crop in 2017.

Canadian farmers will be growing 10 million acres of soybeans by 2027 if Soy Canada has its way.

The industry association has established a series of targets, including doubling production to 13 million tonnes.

“We think these are aggressive targets but achievable,” said executive director Jim Everson.

“We want to set out some goals that motivate the industry.”

Average yield is forecast to increase to 48.2 bushels per acre from 44.1, but most of the production increase is expected to come from expanded acreage, and most of that will occur in Western Canada.

The association is forecasting six million acres in the West, up from 1.9 million in 2016 and four million acres in the east, up from 3.6 million.

Francois Labelle, executive director of Manitoba Pulse and Soybean Growers, said the western Canadian acreage goal is attainable.

“There’s a potential to see a jump of a million acres this year,” he said.

Soybeans delivered “tremendous yields” under wet conditions last year and solid economic returns.

“A lot of growers are interested in looking at soybeans and are trying them and sometimes are trying them in a big way,” said Labelle.

He said the crop has taken off faster than corn in Western Canada because soybeans are easier to grow and farmers can use their existing equipment rather than investing in new seeders and grain handling infrastructure.

In Manitoba, soybeans have displaced canola in the Red River Valley and wheat on the western side of the province. Breeders are producing shorter season soybean varieties that are allowing the crop to migrate west into Saskatchewan.

Labelle said the challenge will be to grow the acres sustainably without introducing yield-robbing agronomic headaches such as root rot and the soybean cyst nematode.

Everson said the exponential growth in acreage and production is expected to attract investment in a new crush facility. He believes it will be built in Western Canada.

Manitoba Pulse and Soybean Growers commissioned a study that shows it would be feasible to build and operate a crush facility in that province.

Labelle believes it’s just a matter of time. He thinks companies are waiting for a sustained critical mass of acres and production before investing because it will likely be an expensive, large-scale facility.

“From what I understand, the margins are tight in that industry all the time, so people want to build a larger plant,” he said.

He acknowledged that one consideration for any company planning to build a plant is that soybeans grown in Western Canada have slightly lower protein levels than those produced in the United States because of the shorter growing season and cooler weather.

“That being said, it is a priority of the soybean industry to work with the plant breeders to improve the protein,” said Labelle.

Soy Canada has set an average protein content target of 40.2 percent for Western Canada in 2027, up from 38.7 percent in 2016.

The association is forecasting 2.5 million tonnes of crush capacity by 2027, up from 1.89 million tonnes in 2016.

That compares to a forecast of 10.5 million tonnes of whole seed exports, up from 4.5 million tonnes last year.

In that way it is a different model of growth than the canola sector, which is forecasting more domestic crush than exports by 2025.

Everson said another goal of the industry is to expand production of high-quality, food-grade soybeans destined for markets like Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and Taiwan.

It would like to see 1.8 million tonnes of foodgrain soybeans produced by 2027, up from 1.25 million tonnes in 2016.

“Those soybeans attract a higher value on the market because of the segregation and cleaning and quality of the product,” he said.

Companies have invested heavily in identity preservation systems for food grade soybeans in Eastern Canada.

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