Soybeans can work well in Alberta,but variety selection is key

UNUSUAL YEAR Seed grower Patrick Fabian says 2012 was a ‘fantastic season for soybeans,’
but warns varieties that thrived last year may not do well under normal conditions

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Soybeans have been a great success for some producers, especially last year, but there are pitfalls, warns a veteran seed grower.

“If all goes well, soybeans are a great crop that doesn’t take a huge amount of work or fuss,” says Patrick Fabian of Tilley.

“But you do need to start off right, and it’s not always simple. Soybeans are bred for very different conditions from ours. Our soils and our climate are quite different from those in Ontario and the U.S. Great Plains, where soybeans are a well-established crop.”

Days to maturity is the obvious factor to consider, but a short-season line may not be enough. Soybeans are also light sensitive and require a specific amount of radiant energy before they switch from vegetative growth to flowering and pod set.

This is a tricky thing to balance — plants need a certain amount of vegetative growth to support lots of flowers and pods, but too much isn’t good, either. Varieties vary in their daylight sensitivity, so there are lines that fit better with our daylight patterns.

As well, most soybeans are geared to the acid soils of those areas and can be susceptible to iron deficiency chlorosis. In soils with a pH above 7, iron becomes unavailable to many varieties. The crop starts out fine, but it yellows and stalls out six to eight weeks after seeding, says Fabian.

He grows test plots of soybeans on his farm every year to find whether or not a line can thrive under Alberta conditions, and selects the most promising for seed production.

Urges caution

“I want to see the soybean industry grow in Alberta,” he says. “It’s a viable alternative oilseed that I think we could easily expand to 50,000 acres in the province. But I don’t want to help the business grow for the sake of growing the business. I don’t want to set my clients up for a wreck.”

Fabian said, as far as he knows, he’s the only seed seller in Alberta who tests every soybean line before selling it.

“We had a fantastic season for soybeans last year,” he says. “I heard of people having success with soybeans even north of Edmonton. But we had twice our normal heat units and much of the heat came too late to affect most crops, but soybeans gained from it. Lots of the eastern lines that looked good with that heat might not do so well in a more normal year.”

Fabian, who has been testings lines that might suit southern Alberta since 2004, says soybeans seem well suited for warmer, irrigated regions, but not so much for more western parts of the province. If you have the right lines for your conditions, it’s a fairly simple crop to grow, he says.

“Soybeans are cheaper to seed than a lot of crops,” he says. “Upfront costs are under $125 an acre — seed, inoculant and treatment, TUA for Roundup trait and starter fertilizer. It’s about the same amount as you’d pay just for fertilizer for canola.”

Fabian recommends liquid P, 6-22-2, as starter fertilizer because it’s a highly refined form of P that has extremely low salt effects. If you can’t put liquid in the furrow, double shoot so the fertilizer is placed away from the seed.

“If you use seed-placed P, the yield advantage from P is lessened by plant loss from salts,” he says. “For every pound of seed-row P, your yield drops by half a per cent. Soybeans are very sensitive to salts from fertilizer or from soil salinity.”

Soybeans are pulses, so they fix their own N, but don’t leave as much in the soil as other pulses. One of Fabian’s clients had a 60-bushel wheat crop following soybeans compared to 42 bushels on the other half of the circle that was on canola stubble.

Although Fabian sees soybean as an irrigation crop, it doesn’t need a lot of water.

“Beans don’t need a lot of water in June or July,” he says. “One 12-hour set at the end of July or early August is generally enough. By then it’s pod fill and you’re working on yield.”

Harvest is easy. Every combine comes with a preset for soybean and even 15 per cent cracks is quite acceptable to buyers. Soybeans will stand till you’re ready to combine. In a late harvest Fabian says take off alfalfa seed first, then flax, sunflowers and soybeans last as fall weather won’t hurt them.

So far, Fabian says he hasn’t heard of any pests in Alberta soybeans.

“We’re in the honeymoon phase now,” he says.

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