Ultra-early soybean varieties create new opportunities for western Canadian growers

While farmers would acknowledge that most soybeans grown in this country tend to be in Eastern Canada, that trend is changing thanks to ongoing variety development.

In Western Canada, southern Manitoba was the first area to adopt soybean production in the early 2000s and the crop has slowly been creeping west. But this is only history repeating itself according to Wilt Billing, product line, manager for corn and soybeans with Crop Production Services.

“New growers have a lot of questions regarding the sustainability of soybean production in new geographies. But consider how the growth of soybean acres spread from the south into the more northern U.S. states. North Dakota was where we are now about 20 years ago. Now it’s one of the largest areas growing this crop because companies developed earlier maturing varieties. That trend continues into Manitoba, Saskatchewan and now Alberta,” says Billing.

And the numbers support this theory. Manitoba seeded 1.71 million acres this spring, a 12% increase over 2015. And while Saskatchewan acres were down slightly, between 300,000 and 400,000 acres, the total soybeans seeded in Western Canada in 2016 is approaching 2 million acres.

Improving Relative Maturity

To understand how this shift is possible, it is first important to understand how soybeans are rated for maturity. While many crops are categorized by heat units, the industry standard for soybeans is relative maturity.

The relative maturity scale was developed in the United States and is an alternative to heat units for ranking soybean maturity. It is a 1-9 scale where 1 was the earliest and 9 is the longest maturity. As earlier soybean varieties were developed the scale had to be expanded and a zero (0) rating was added for beans in the North Dakota region.

Breeders continued to introduce even earlier varieties. The relative maturity soybean groups for western Canadian soybeans consist of double zero (00) and now, triple zero (000) maturities. Within these relative maturity groups, a subset of 1(early maturity) to 9 (late maturity) exists. For example a 000.7 matures a little earlier than a 000.9, while still being categorized as an ultra-early variety.

Which soybean variety is right for me?

Billing has some good advice for growers in new soybean areas looking to try soybeans in their rotation. “Start with the earliest maturing products available (000). This will allow you to familiarize yourself with the crop, see how it works on your farm, with the least amount of maturity risk. Once you are comfortable, consider trying different varieties to discover which ones perform best in your area,” suggests Billing.

For experienced growers, Billing recommends establishing their baseline for performance and yield expectations and then look at planting a few varieties to spread out the risk.

“You never know what your growing conditions will be so having a couple of varieties in the ground has paid off for some growers. In a dry August, having a later double zero worked because it took advantage of a late rain that the earlier variety didn’t get. Alternatively, the earlier products will perform better on a year when moisture arrives early but dries up in late August,” adds Billing.

There are a number of information sources available and Billing recommends using as many as possible when making your decision.  Agriculture ministries in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta as well as their pulse growers associations are running trials, which will provide good regional data.  Seed suppliers including CPS, also run trials in their local areas. “CPS is undergoing a massive expansion for soybean trials as well as corn in Western Canada, through both R&D as well as producer-managed field performance check strip trials,” says Billing.

Again the industry standard in variety selection is the relative maturity scale. The best way to start is to compare a known maturing product in the local area to a new product. The options in Canada are triple zero to single zero. While there are some beans that are more adaptable to varying conditions and soil zones, the majority should be grown in the region for which they were bred.

Proven Seed recently introduced PV 10s005 RR2, its first soybean variety. It is a Genuity Roundup Ready 2 Yield soybean that is high-yielding with leading emergence and excellent standability. It is considered a mid-maturity variety with a relative maturity of 005. It is best fit for southern Manitoba.

A crop with some special requirements

While yield potential tends to increase as maturity increases, the grade and quality doesn’t see the same impact due to variety. The variability, according to Billing, really comes from the growing conditions, which underline the importance of getting the right variety for the area.

There are studies in the United States that show earlier planted soybeans tend to yield more, but this isn’t necessarily true in Canada. Planting times in western Canada should be carefully considered, as soybeans are very susceptible to cooler soil temps.

“Soybeans need heat to germinate and emerge. Planting when soil temps are below 5 degrees Celsius tends to negatively impact establishment.  Growers here should likely seed their cereals and other crops first and wait for soil temps to increase at the end of their planting cycle,” says Billing.

Once the crop is in the ground, feeding it is a priority. Because soybeans have a very high requirement for nitrogen, inoculants are important to ensure the plant is able to fix nitrogen efficiently from the soil. Billing generally recommends two different inoculants, and to stick with products specific to soybean varieties. It is also important to ensure that there is sufficient P and K available for balanced plant nutrition.

What should growers be aware of when it comes to protecting the crop? “With susceptibility to cooler soil temps, seed treatments with insecticide and fungicide components are a must for soybeans– they give a level of protection against soil-borne diseases that can’t be dismissed,” says Billing.

Soybeans also require a lot of moisture in August as the pods mature and fill.  “In 2016 Manitoba had a very good soybean-growing year and it looks like we could get some great crops. Yields are coming off far above average,” says Billing.

The future for soybeans in Western Canada

While the recent mild springs may have been part of the success experienced for this new crop, Billing believes that early maturing genetics really deserve the lion’s share of the credit.  “Early spring conditions have certainly helped growers get soybeans in the ground earlier but the new earlier varieties are what really opened up new acres to soybean production,” says Billing who sees many more acres seeded to soybeans in the future.

While most of the soybeans grown in Western Canada will be used as soybean meal for animal feed, the Prairie provinces don’t produce enough to fulfill our Canadian demand…yet.  If the example of North Dakota and the northern United States is anything to go by, we will see a lot more acres of soybeans in Western Canada in the next few years.

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