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Checking in with Chuck Myers: Where have all the soybeans gone?

Editor's Note: In a recent trip to Nebraska, it was clear to me that certain areas of the state are being dominated by corn this year. As pointed out in a recent blog entry, Beans in the High Teens? Nebraska, Minnesota and Indiana are states where growers planted a million fewer acres of soybeans last spring. What will it take for soybeans to compete with corn, and possibly wheat in some areas, too? Are soybeans being pushed out of parts of the country?

For some response on the impact of this acreage shift, I talked with Chuck Myers, a Lyons, Nebraska, farmer. Myers serves as a United Soybean Board director and is a member of USB's domestic marketing committee. He also serves on the National Biodiesel Board, and is an adviser to the Successful Farming High Yield Team project.

Agriculture Online: How are soybeans faring in the battle for acres versus corn this year in Nebraska, do you think?

C.M.: As you know, a large percentage of Nebraska cropland is irrigated, and after many past years under a government farm program that paid according to corn base acres, Nebraska farmers learned to do one thing very well, and that's raising continuous irrigated corn.

So, the increase in demand for corn for ethanol, and a good number of ethanol plants locating in Nebraska, has allowed Nebraska farmers to reduce their crop rotation acres and go back to raising continuous irrigated corn. In my part of Nebraska, the northeast, I always tell visitors that our part of the state is probably more like western Iowa. There is some irrigation, but the majority of cropland is still dryland. In this area, corn on corn acres have increased, but most farmers are still incorporating the reliable corn/soybean rotation to a large degree.

I can see more acres going to continuous corn if corn prices continue to outbid soybeans for acres. I guess it all boils down to how the ethanol industry fares, and that hinges on the price of petroleum. At the time I'm writing this, crude petroleum is well over $70 per barrel. I think a crude petroleum price above $50 per barrel will still be strong encouragement to continue ethanol development and the battle for corn acres. Irrigated acres in Nebraska that produce strong corn yields will probably be continuous corn.

Agriculture Online: Is ethanol plant development relocating bean production in any way that you know of?

C.M.: Well, as I said earlier, irrigated acres in Nebraska will probably go more to continuous corn, so soybean acres may be relegated to non-irrigated areas, where soybeans may have better drought tolerance than dryland corn. The gap between corn and soybean yields on dryland acres isn't as big as on irrigated acres, so dryland soybeans have a better chance to compete economically with dryland corn. But, with a big 2007 corn crop on the way, and fewer 2007 soybean acres, supply and demand could put a balance back in the corn/soybean rotation sooner than we think.

Agriculture Online: Is Nebraska doing anything to promote soybean production to farmers?

C.M.: Livestock production is an extremely important industry in Nebraska that uses a lot of soybean meal, especially for pork and poultry production. So, in order to keep the livestock industry healthy and located here in Nebraska, it's important that Nebraska farmers realize soybean production is needed right along with corn production. The state and national soybean checkoff boards work to support the Nebraska livestock industry to make sure there will always be strong demand for soybeans raised right here in Nebraska.

Besides supporting Nebraska livestock, the soybean checkoff boards work in many other supply, food, feed, marketing and industrial areas of soybean production to make soybean production more profitable. For example, I'm proud to say that well over 50% of Nebraska soybean farmers are using soy biodiesel on their farms. This is one of the highest percentages in the nation, and a direct result of soybean farmers promoting soy biodiesel through their checkoff. Soy biodiesel has helped put soybean oil prices at very high levels, which translates to a higher soybean price for soybean farmers. All of this helps soybeans compete for acres in Nebraska.

Agriculture Online: Are there other hot issues on your mind?

C.M.: I think acceptance of biotech soybean products could become an important issue again. We're all used to the biotech Roundup Ready soybean trait that was introduced over ten years ago. There are now numerous new biotech soybean traits in the pipeline. There will be not only new biotech agronomic traits, like increased yield and drought tolerance, but biotech traits that can benefit human health and also have industrial uses.

You're probably aware of low linolenic acid soybeans, a non-biotech trait, which can greatly reduce trans-fatty acids in certain food applications using soybean oil. There are mid- and high-oleic acid soybeans coming that are biotech that will have important human food uses and also new industrial uses. There is an omega-3 fatty acid biotech soybean coming that can make soybean oil even healthier for humans than it already is.

Acceptance of these new traits by consumers, both domestic and foreign, is critical. So, I think it's important that soybean farmers get ahead of the introduction of these new soybean traits and be ready to not only understand and promote the new traits, but also be ready to meet the potential increased soybean demand.

Editor's Note: In a recent trip to Nebraska, it was clear to me that certain areas of the state are being dominated by corn this year. As pointed out in a recent blog entry, Beans in the High Teens? Nebraska, Minnesota and Indiana are states where growers planted a million fewer acres of soybeans last spring. What will it take for soybeans to compete with corn, and possibly wheat in some areas, too? Are soybeans being pushed out of parts of the country?
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