Western Canadian soybean acres likely to take a tumble

Statistics Canada expects Sask. and Man. farmers to seed 1.84 million acres this year, a major drop from 2017 and 2018

It’s 2016 all over again, at least for soybean acres in Western Canada.

Statistics Canada, in its April report on seeding intentions, projected soybean acres at 240,000 in Saskatchewan and about 1.6 million in Manitoba.

In both provinces, the figures are almost identical to the acreage in 2016.

The combined acreage of 1.84 million is a massive drop from 2017, when growers in Manitoba and Saskatchewan seeded 3.1 million acres of beans.

Last year, Manitoba had 1.9 million acres and Saskatchewan had 407,000 acres of soybeans.

“Do the number surprise us? No. We knew soybean acres were going to be lower,” said Tyler Russell, western Canadian manager for NorthStar Genetics, which produces and sells soybean varieties to growers.

“And it’s reflected in (seed) sales, as well.”

The Statistics Canada estimate for Manitoba is close to a prediction made in January.

Dennis Lange, provincial pulse specialist with Manitoba Agriculture, said at Ag Days in Brandon that soybean acres would drop by 300,000 and be around 1.6 million.

The summers of 2017 and 2018 were hard on soybean growers, particularly in Saskatchewan. Beans need rain in late July and early August for pod fill, but in most areas the moisture never came.

The average yield last year in Manitoba was tolerable at 32 to 33 bushels per acre, but in recent years Manitoba growers have become accustomed to yields of 40 to 50 bu. per acre.

As well, a 30 bu. soybean crop is hard to stomach when a neighbouring canola grower is harvesting 50 bu. per acre. In 2018, the provincial average for canola was 45 bu. per acre.

In Saskatchewan, soybean yields were not tolerable. They were terrible.

The average yield in 2017 and 2018, based on Statistics Canada estimates, were around 20 bu. per acre, and many growers reported yields of 15 bu. per acre.

“The yield relative to canola or other pulses in the rotation, we’re not there yet,” said Gerrid Gust, who farms near Davidson, Sask., and grew 400 acres of beans in 2018.

Saskatchewan growers, though, did have success with soybeans before 2017 and 2018. In 2016, soybeans produced yields in the mid 30s and higher.

Soybeans looked appealing in the winter of 2016-17 because the summer of 2016 was horrific for cereal crops in Saskatchewan.

“There was vomitoxin all over the place and fusarium was off the charts,” Russell said.

“They (growers) looked across at some of the few acres of beans that were grown and they (realized) that’s a crop that can withstand the wetness.… Unfortunately, we (then) had two of the driest summers (back to back).”

Two years of sub-par yields have dulled enthusiasm for soybeans, but there’s a chance that soybean acres could exceed expectations in 2019.

Canola prices are down because China is refusing to buy Canadian canola seed. Growers may shift a few more acres into beans.

“There are still some soybeans acres … coming back to us,” Russell said.

“In some of their last acres, some people have been looking … and (saying), ‘I might put in an extra quarter of beans.’ ”

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