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6 reasons beans are back

Gene Johnston 02/05/2013 @ 8:42am On the scene at the 2012 Cattle Convention, Nashville

The evidence is mounting that soybean acres will get a bump in 2013. The reasons may be more agronomic than economic, say farmers and crop specialists.

“Corn will always have more value per acre simply because it yields so much more,” says Mike Schrum, a farmer and agronomist for West Central Cooperative, Grand Junction, Iowa. “But in a year like 2012, the agronomic benefits of crop rotation really showed up.” Those can quickly become economic ones, he adds.

Here are six reasons why you may be planting more soybeans in future years.

1. Continuous corn took a hit

Exactly why is debatable, but Schrum uses his own family farm as a good example. They have fields that have been in continuous corn for five years and others that have been in a 50-50 rotation with soybeans. The continuous corn yields have lagged rotation yields by about 10 bushels an acre — generally acceptable, given the market incentives for corn.

But in 2012, the yield hit to continuous corn was significantly harder. Rotation corn yielded about 150 bushels per acre, while continuous corn was near 100 bushels an acre.

Other farmers and university research fields saw continuous cornfields take big yield hits, too. Shawn Conley, University of Wisconsin Extension agronomist, says continuous corn in his state generally lagged rotational corn yields by 30 or more bushels an acre in 2012.

“Some of the reasons for this are still unexplained,” Conley says. “It could be because of the buildup of plant diseases in continuous corn. Soybeans need less water than corn. In a dry year, those things really pop out.” (See number 3.)

2. Well-managed soybeans held up

Again, Schrum's family farm in central Iowa serves as a good example.

“We apply some high-intensity practices to our soybeans,” says Schrum, “including fertilizer, micronutrients, and fungicides. Prior to 2012, we'd been averaging 56 to 57 bushels an acre,” he says. “In 2012, it was 52 bushels with those high-intensity practices.” He says nearby fields without those practices yielded about 30 bushels per acre.

In Wisconsin 2012 soybean tests, soybeans were amazing, says Conley. In one location in the southern part of the state, just .3 inches of rain fell during an eight-week period from May to July, and some plots still yielded over 80 bushels per acre.

“If you get the beans planted early and get good early weed control, that's when they do really well,” he says. “We don't normally think of soybeans as a deep-rooted plant, but we saw some soybean roots go down 36 to 48 inches, following the water down all season long.”

3. Corn sucks more H20 than soybeans

Soybeans tolerate dry weather better than corn. One issue is the biomass comparison to corn. The pounds of grain produced and the vegetative matter of the growing crop are less with soybeans. Soybeans also require less soil moisture reserves to support the growing crop.

Plus, continuous corn tends to require more tillage, sometimes to alleviate soil compaction and sometimes to manage the residue volume of a continuous corn crop.

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