Soybeans – A Wild Ride in Manitoba
Daryl Domitruk, Executive Director, MPSG
Pulse Beat 96, Fall/Winter 2022
THE ROLLER COASTER known as the Manitoba soybean industry continues its wild ride. The 2022 season started with a nervous tug on the seatbelt as seeding delays caused acres to lurch below 1 million for the first time since 2012. Even with good crop establishment and adequate heat for development in July, many of us tightened our chin straps in ominous preparation for an upside-down twist into early frost. Instead, the crop tracked into a sustained period of calm as a series of threats failed to materialize. First, pressure from insects and diseases proved rather timid. Second, and more importantly, the stress we were dreading from a searing August drought and a resulting plunge in soybean yield did not occur. In fact, growing conditions in August were downright favourable and continued to be so through an extended fall and well-timed harvest. By early October a sense relief started to set in. The ride was over. No one got hurt and, in the end, yields and prices meant just about everybody had a ton of fun.
What’s more, after a big drop in seeded acres the dry bean crop provided a similarly fun ride with a result that in many cases exceeded soybean. No doubt, some dry bean yield records were broken? Peas were a little wobbly in places where their feet got too wet. Although the 2022 ride with peas was anything but consistent, there were some excellent yields in the mix.
So, are we on a long, slow climb back to the top of the roller coaster? For soybeans in 2023 the answer is most probably yes. Factors have conspired to favour low-input crops, and soybean checks all the boxes. Assuming dry bean prices continue to entice the committed core farmer, will recent converts to beans return? Peas will be interesting. Many farms have become re-acquainted with the crop. Some have become friends, others not. Supporting members’ immediate planting decisions is why farmer-funded organizations exist. With research results flowing in on a consistent basis and staff achieving expert status in translating those results into solutions for farmers, MPSG is maturing as a company. From the increasing number of factsheets delivered to members, or the expert in-season advice available via Bean Report radio spots, to customized results from the On-Farm Network, MPSG has hit full stride in supporting grower decisions. Anyone wanting to experience this in person is invited to see the announcement for Getting it Right in this edition of Pulse Beat.
Maturing as an organization means directors and staff have developed a keen sense of where pulses and soybeans need to go in the longer term. The excitement of a slow climb up the roller coaster can be dampened by the prospect of another eye-popping drop just ahead. MPSG has committed to doing everything it can to smooth the ride and sustain production at a consistent level. We’re taking a responsible approach by suggesting an annual legume could be grown one in four years on most fields. That’s 25 percent of Manitoba’s acres or about 2.5 million acres. We think about 1.5-2.0 million acres would be dedicated to soybean. In 2022, legumes were grown on about 1.3 million acres. Soybeans were grown on 900,000. On the way to achieving our one-in-four year goal, MPSG will steadfastly strive to keep farmer costs down and productivity up.
That effort starts with previously described research into drought-tolerant soybean, and carries on through efforts to make dry beans into efficient nitrogen fixers and soybeans, and to conquer root rot in peas. However, what’s extraordinary about the future is that it’s not likely to be just farmers pushing for stability in legumes. The fact is, greenhouse gasses continue to accumulate, and no easy solution has appeared on the horizon – except, if you are in Manitoba, where the room available to grow legumes represents real and achievable reductions in emissions. It also represents a profitable path to those reductions. Governments are starting to recognize the public has a stake in farmers achieving stable legume production.
An MPSG-sponsored session at Ag Days in January will explain this unique need shared by farmers and the public. It will also show the link between society winning the climate battle in the long term and the knowledge-supported decisions MPSG members make today.