Give Me Yield and Simplicity On the Way to the Casino

Replant 510      I often say marketing is a daily experience.  Our agricultural markets are so volatile and when you add the Canadian loonie into the mix, its demands a lot of marketing acumen.  Farm planning is a different matter.  That takes long-term vision, on knowing where you want to go.  Planning your cropping mix is important too.  This is where I find myself right now.  What do I grow next year, what varieties will save the day when the going gets tough?

Its no secret I think next year is about growing soybeans in Ontario.  You know my views about the Ontario corn market structure; I’m taking a step back.  I’m still growing it along with some wheat, but my soybean variety decisions are being made now.

I recently attended a soybean post harvest meeting in the small community of Dresden where I farm.   It’s always an interesting meeting because soybean breeders often talk about the problems they have boosting yield in soybeans versus corn.  Where corn can get increased yield from fighting off a very few insects, the breeders always explained to me there are myriad of problems to fend off in soybeans.  In a perfect world soybeans might yield 300 bushels per acre.  So when we plant the soybeans its a long way down to 42.6 bushels per acre, which I accomplished this past year.  There are a myriad of stresses that soybeans simply can’t roll off.

So soybeans have a problem and something that we’ve discussed here many times.  In Ontario, we can expect a .32-bushel per acre increase in soybean yield on annual basis.  However, over the last 20 years we have been seeing about a 2.3-bushel per acre increase annually in corn yields.  In fact, over the last few years it is even being higher than that.  So the default choice among growers is to grow corn.  In 2013, I am surely going against the grain! (Of the wood, pardon the pun)

I don’t know if this is going to change very quickly.  Researchers now are using molecular markers to accelerate breeding techniques in the soybean plant.  They are also replicating these plants in South America during the winter season.  So maybe better yields are just around the corner.  We shall see.  I only hope they do not get confused in the process.

I say that because I was very aware of the upcoming release of soybeans, which are both glyphosate and dicamba resistant.  There are various trade names for them, one of which is RR2 Xtend soybeans from Syngenta.   So you plant your soybeans and then you spray them with a mixture of glyphosate and dicamba, killing all those super weeds that are resistant to glyphosate.  Our Chinese customers aren’t too happy about buying beans with this characteristic, but that has never stopped anyone before.   To me its a slippery slope, I don’t know why we have to go there.

I say that for a couple reasons.  One, the end-users of soybeans do not want it and two, I don’t think soybean growers do either.  Now, I know there are many American soybean growers that have terrible issues with glyphosate resistant weeds, specifically Palmer Amarenth, which might force me to retire if it ever showed up on my farm.  Needless to say, I can just imagine susceptible crops getting spray drift from soybeans sprayed post with dicamba.  I don’t know why we even have to go there.

Is my understanding that in 3 or 4 years most soybean seed will come with the glyphosate and dicamba trait?  Years later after we have super weeds that resist that mix, we’ll surely move on to something else.  This is much different than atrazine resistance, as there are no technology use agreements with those old chemistries.  This new frontier of weed resistance is almost institutionalized because of the legal structure the big Ag corporations enforce on farmers.   At the end of the day, it’s not about the soybean user; it’s all about the money.

I’m surely am not against the money.  We need profit in our agricultural supply industry to make things work.  In many ways this is making it more difficult for the individual soybean grower who sees a segmented seed market based solely on traits, which they may or may not need.  Grower customers are left confused.  They want simplicity and yield.

Looking ahead I just see more confusion and market segmentation in the seeds we grow, maybe especially in soybeans.  Next year there are increased acres going into farmers producing their own seed with varieties outside the control of the big corporations.  Corn farmers are already making that choice by cutting acres to almost anything else.

I will do the best I can with what God gave me to figure all this out.  All I want is big yields and some simplicity in getting there.  If I see weeds, I’ll fight them, if I see bugs, I’ll try and kill them.  Trying to out guess nature through traits is like going to the casino.  Trying to make the right choice is just a flat out gamble.