A view full of opportunity
Brian Innes, Executive Director, Soy Canada – Spring 2022 Pulse Beat
WHEN YOU’RE YOUNG, like the soybean industry in Manitoba, you’ve got your whole future ahead of you. Add to that the fact that we’re growing soybeans further north than anyone in the world in a time of change and you’ve got a pioneer spirit that’s filled with optimism for what’s to come.
That pioneer spirit was on full display during our recent Northern Soybean Summit that brought together people from across the value chain and across Canada. The afternoon session on the expansion and quality of northern soybeans was informative for how the whole value chain can make soybeans more valuable for Manitoba growers.
The Summit was a good example of how the industry can come together through Soy Canada to create value through collaboration. We naturally all know our own business the best, but we can often be inspired by others and find opportunities to make the sum greater than its parts when we come together. And while there’s certainly more room for action for the soybean industry to bring more value to Manitoba, the information shared at the Summit was a good step.
There were a number of interesting discussions during the Summit worth sharing. Here are a few snippets:
A young industry with room for growth and rapid evolution – With only 20 years since soybeans were first grown in Manitoba and significant acres only coming 10 years ago, a number of speakers reflected on how new the crop is and how there’s lots of room for growth. From agronomy and harvest management to having properly adapted seed genetics and having exporters connect with buyers who want to crush Manitoba
beans, a lot has evolved and improved in a short amount of time. Speakers reflected on the lessons learned and how these experiences position the industry for more success in the future. One speaker shared how their western Canadian breeding program started in the late 2000s with ankle-high beans. With each variety taking about eight years to come to market, the genetics adapted to Manitoba have evolved rapidly — even since soybeans were a consistent rotation crop in 2015 when the early breeding programs started to bear fruit.
The weather in 2030 will change the landscape for soybeans in western Canada – Climate experts from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada shared how dramatic the warming climate is for western Canada and how significant these changes will be for a crop like soybeans. With more heat, all areas will be able to grow longer season varieties — which will have a significant impact for places in western Manitoba, like Oakner where it’s been more difficult to consistently grow a good crop of soybeans.
For example, when comparing average temperatures for 1985–2014 versus the predictions for 2015–2044, it means 500 more crop heat units on average. This means growers across the Westman region will be able to insert a 00 maturity group soybeans into their rotation, confident in their chance of success. Every farmer knows that weather is unpredictable, but understanding we’re going to get more heat with similar moisture paves the way for higher performing soybean genetics to be a profitable fit for growers rotations more often.
Food-grade soybeans work in Manitoba and there are value-added opportunities for growers – There’s renewed interest in expanding food- grade identity-preserved soybean production in Manitoba from both Prograin and Sevita, who are specialized exporters with a long history in the business. With premiums offered over commodity beans and improved genetics offering Manitoba growers more varieties, more acres means more opportunity for growers to increase their revenue from every acre. Strong international demand means Canadian exporters can expand our food-grade production with varieties grown in Manitoba that meet end-user needs.
Unfortunately, yield, protein and agronomic traits don’t naturally flock together – At the Summit, three of the main seed-breeding companies shared the challenges they face breeding high-yielding, agronomically adapted and short-season varieties for western Canada that have competitive protein levels. Unfortunately, yield suffers when selecting for protein and putting a package of germplasm together to make a variety fit in western Canada is a significant undertaking, especially given how new soybean production is mainly linked to western Canada. With the number one demand from growers being higher yield, breeders are focusing on yield and other traits that make soybeans more resilient.
There’s a place for Manitoba beans in the global soybean market – Of western Canadian soybeans, G3 and Viterra, showed their commitment to the value chain and shared valuable insights about what our customers want and how Manitoba beans meet their needs. It’s no secret that western Canadian soybeans have lower protein than other origins, and this can be a challenge for processors to meet the minimum levels required in soybean meal. What was interesting is that buyers in China, Bangladesh, Iran, Pakistan and North America request western Canadian beans when they have the ability to blend them with those from other origins — though the price needs to be right. Manitoba beans may not be a premium product in the marketplace, but at the right price and sold into the world market at the right time, they fill a global need that is significant and could easily take all that western Canada can produce.
It’s a competitive landscape and soybeans need to compete for a place in a grower’s rotation – Grower representatives from across the country, including Manitoba, provided the audience with a candid look at what it takes for them to grow soybeans. In some regions — even northern regions — it’s a natural fit. One representative went so far as to say, “if they’re not growing soybeans, they’re not keeping up with the times.” In other regions, such as parts of Manitoba, there is intense competition for acres right now and the profitability bar is set pretty high. However, profitability wasn’t the only consideration, with rotational benefits and management factors like harvest timing also being very important.
There was a consensus that it’s not just potential yield, but consistent yield under stress that is most important. With Manitoba often subject to stress from excess and limited moisture — sometimes in the same year — having varieties more resilient to moisture stress would be of significant benefit. ■