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

Agriculture.com Staff 07/25/2007 @ 10:01am

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.

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