Soybean seed sales slump in Saskatchewan

A year after soybean acres in Saskatchewan made massive gains, they are likely to drop this spring.

The question is how much?

Rob Stone, who farms near Davidson, Sask., thinks soybean area could decline by about 200,000 acres.

That would put the provincial total at about 600,000 acres because Saskatchewan farmers seeded 850,000 acres in 2017.

Stone’s estimate is based on seed sales and conversations with fellow soybean growers.

“I would say our orders are down, as far as volume of soybean seed in this area,” said Stone, a seed sales representative for DuPont Pioneer.

A soybean seed rep for another company, who didn’t want to be identified, had a similar message. Sales in Saskatchewan have been slow this winter because soil conditions were very dry in autumn and there was little snowfall until early March.

Consequently, growers are reluctant to spend big dollars on soybean seed and plant that seed into arid soil.

The larger factor is likely poor yields in 2017. Saskatchewan Agriculture estimated the average soybean yield in the province at 18 bushels per acre. Statistics Canada was more generous, pegging it at 24 bu. per acre.

On Stone’s farm, the yield on 300 acres didn’t reach 20 bu. It was 19.7 bu. per acre.

“(The) soybeans got off to a good start. The plant counts were there, everything was good (and) they were flowering well … (but) we ended up with very small seed,” Stone said.

Soybeans need moisture in late July and August for pod fill, but rain never arrived for most soybean fields in the province.

“Seed size was certainly a large factor (in poor yields)…. They were BBs instead of bullets.”

A percentage of Stone’s customers will take a break from soybeans this year and others may cut back their acres.

“I can sense the nervousness of people right now because of the extremity (of conditions) last year.”

Soybean yields were also disappointing in northeastern Saskatchewan, but it seems like growers are willing to give beans another chance.

Growers jumped into soybeans in the spring of 2017 because trials and experimental acres in 2016 showed promising yields in the high 30s and low 40s bu. per acre.

But yields for first-time growers failed to reach those levels in the fall of 2017.

Kris Mayerle, who owns and operates Greenleaf Seeds in Tisdale, said yields were 22 to 28 bu. per acre.

That’s well below Manitoba yields of 35 to 40 bu. per acre.

Regardless, many growers in the area are sticking with soybeans.

“Many of these guys are definitely going to grow some beans again,” Mayerle said. “Last year was the first year growing them for a lot of guys in the area. They’ve just said, ‘I’m going to give them another try. It was a one-year deal. It’s not always going to be that dry in July and August.’ ”

One persistent challenge in the region is that SCIC, the provincial crop insurer, doesn’t provide coverage for soybeans in northeastern Saskatchewan. An SCIC map shows that the insurer provides coverage in two zones: one in southeastern Saskatchewan and another in central Saskatchewan. More details are available at www.saskcropinsurance.com/resources/maps/soybeans-map/.

There is no insurance in the northeast or the southwest.

Mayerle said some growers around Tisdale are holding off on beans until insurance is available.

“I’ll sell some soybean seed here,” he said. “I see some of the same guys buying seed and they’re going to try it again. But I’m not seeing a whole rush of new guys.”

In other parts of Saskatchewan, where farmers grow pulse crops, acres of lentils and peas are expected to drop because of weaker prices.

Growers in those regions may try soybeans again because prices are relatively strong.

In early March, futures prices in Chicago for new crop beans were about US $10.30 per bu.

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