There needs to be a new priority in western Canadian soybean breeding programs, says an extension specialist.
The greatest need used to be developing early maturing varieties suitable to the shortened growing season on the Prairies.
There has been good progress on that front, said Sherri Roberts, crop extension specialist with Saskatchewan Agriculture.
“Every year the companies are coming out with shorter and shorter growing varieties. That is not as big of an issue anymore,” she said.
Soybeans are being grown as far north as Melfort and just south of Prince Albert.
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“The more limiting factor is the moisture issue,” she said.
Roberts said soybeans need to receive moisture during pod set in late July and early August.
That is what makes them a difficult crop to grow in the western half of Saskatchewan, which tends to be dry during that timeframe.
Fortunately there are new varieties in the research and development pipeline that have improved drought tolerance.
Roberts said there are even existing varieties on the market with that trait, which is why she encourages farmers to attend their local Agriculture Applied Research Management sites where they can look at trials and see which varieties are best suited to their farms.
Soybean acres have bounced around quite a bit in Saskatchewan. Farmers planted 240,000 acres in 2016, which jumped to 850,000 acres in 2017. However, growers weren’t happy with yields, so it fell back to 407,500 acres in 2018.
This year yields were variable depending on the location, similar to the previous year.
Growers who received timely rain harvested 40 to 50 bushels per acre, but those in places like Swift Current, Sask., and unirrigated land near Outlook, Sask., had disappointing results in the 12 to 20 bu. per acre range.
“I still see it as a real promising crop for Saskatchewan,” said Roberts.
“Particularly if the United States keeps the trade war going on with China. There’s a beautiful market there. Canada could fill that niche and really go for it.”
She believes it is only a matter of time before the crop takes off.
“I think the sky is the limit for soybeans once farmers get the agronomics down and once we get the varieties tweaked a little bit more,” said Roberts.
One limiting agronomic factor has been volunteer Roundup Ready canola. However, new stacked herbicide-tolerant varieties are coming to market that have combined Roundup and dicamba resistance and even Roundup, dicamba and 2-4 D resistance.
“There is also a huge growing market in the conventional soybean varieties. These I think are really going to start to take off,” said Roberts.
Semences Prograin is now marketing conventional, non-genetically modified soybeans in Western Canada through an identity-preserved program.
Clubroot presents another opportunity for soybeans. The disease was found in 37 Saskatchewan canola fields this year.
It means canola growers are going to be forced to stretch out their rotations to keep the disease at bay, and Roberts thinks soybeans would be a nice fit in many of those rotations.
Another factor that will help the crop take root in Saskatchewan is growers investing in specialized soybean equipment, and that is starting to happen.
Some farmers have purchased soybean planters, which provide better emergence, less seed damage and more uniform crops.