Soybeans have become a real problem. What you say? Some of you must think I’ve been on the election trail too long. I’m not talking about stabilization policy; I’m not talking about foreign subsidization. The problem with soybeans is all about yield.
If you believed the hype perpetuated by some in the agricultural marketing arena, we all should be getting 85 bushels per acre. When you add the magic of biotechnology into the equation, once again we all should be getting 85 bushels per acre. The reality is nobody is coming close to that in the soybean growing hinterland in Canada. I’m sure even some of my overzealous American readers up in Minnesota and North Dakota won’t attest to 85 bushels either.
The problem is we should be getting 85 bushels per acre with the $6 plus cash prices currently being offered for Canadian soybeans. However, in Table 5.1 and 5.2 of the Ontario soybean trials soybean yield averages are 42.7 and 46.5 bushels per acre respectively. Where’s the 85 bushels per acre? What’s up with that?
To put it mildly, the hype about soybeans is so wrong. In fact much of the hype is down right fraud. With yields like this in Ontario, the soybean industry is marching straight backwards. That’s not a condemnation of any of the good people in the soybean industry. However, from a farmers perspective we have to get results and they are just not coming. With rust and aphids in the equation it makes the soybean puzzle that much more fickle.
Last year I had the second highest soybean yield ever on my farm. However, its pretty obvious I don’t feel joyful. I wonder about everybody else. Last year in the US, production chimed in at 3.043 billion bushels. In 2004/05 US production chimed in at 3.124 billion. Those numbers are impressive but do they really stack up against those mega corn crops in the 11 billion bushel range.
In Canada is seems we have soybeans everywhere. According to statistics Canada, total stocks of soybeans were a record 2.3 million tonnes, up 8.3% from the 2004 record of 2.1 million tonnes. The 10-year average is 1.6 million tonnes. On-farm soybean stocks were pegged at 1.3 million tonnes, up from 1.25 million the previous year. So maybe that’s why I’m not joyful. Maybe that’s why I don’t think there is any joy in soybean country.
It boils down to one thing. To be successful in the soybean industry you have to remember one thing. Its not about technology. Its all about yield. This is where I think we have lost our way. The hype machine surrounding RR soybeans and all the other chemical tolerant soybean options seem to forget one thing. Weed control is not rocket science. Agricultural biotechnology in soybeans has been all about selling more glyphosate and nothing about more yield. Mix aphids and rust into the mix and the profit outlook gets murkier.
So does this mean that the soybean complex in Canada and the United States is a poverty theme park? Hardly, there are lots of people making money growing soybeans even at these current low price levels. The problem is the soybean yield curve isn’t trending up as steeply as it should. In fact some would argue that the yield curve isn’t trending up at all. In fact depending on where you farm, some people would say it is going down.
I have thought about this for a long time. Some production analysts say it’s a build up of disease or yield draggy RR soybeans. Some say it’s a lack of rotation. Other say the newer soybeans growing areas like Quebec, North Dakota and parts of northern Minnesota are the ones getting the big yields. Traditional areas like southwestern Ontario are getting soybeaned out.
So can I look forward to shaking this trend and eventually getting that 85-bushel yield within the next ten years? I sure hope so. Unlike corn, soybeans can be grown from bin run seed, which releases the farmer from the clutches of big corporations. There are a myriad of ways to grow an acre of soybeans, much more than an acre of corn. That’s one reason why even under these conditions there are still a lot of soybeans around.
Those options however are shrinking. At the same time our South American competitors laugh at our “technology use agreements.” The point being as Canadian soybeans producers we might think we’re doing OK, but in the bigger picture we’re falling behind. Give me that 85 bushel/acre. Maybe then, I can really talk soybeans.