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Beans are back

I often joke I could make a good side income giving advice based on doing the opposite of what I do.

Take grain marketing. I'll sell grain the day before a predicted ominous government report comes out. Of course, the market will zoom upward when the gloomy report mysteriously turns bullish.

The next time a bullish report is expected, I'll hold onto grain in hopes of a resulting rally. You guessed it - the suddenly bearish report market will spur the market to go limit down.

Gary Schnitkey recently made me feel better. The University of Illinois Extension farm management specialist says people tend to overestimate recent events and underestimate past events.

"There was a good chance of a hurricane hitting New Orleans, but it hadn't occurred for a while," he told those attending the 2006 Illinois Crop Protection Technology Conference last month. "People weren't prepared when Katrina struck."

Remember Asian rust? Last winter it seemed like it was the final nail sealing soybean's coffin. Fed up with a plethora of pests and a perceived yield plateau, many farmers murmured about letting Brazil grow the beans and the U.S. grow the corn.

Dishing about deep-sixing soybeans was understandable. Yet, it occurred at a time when China was gobbling soybeans and soybean meal to fuel its livestock expansion. Health magazines prominently featured soybeans as the delight of dieticians.

Meanwhile, folks like Palle Pedersen, Iowa State University Extension soybean agronomist, pointed out that soybeans had a genetic yield potential of 100 bushels an acre.

Shawn Conley, Purdue University Extension soybean specialist, adds that soybean yields are generally more stable than corn under stress. This is due to the prolonged flowering period of soybeans compared to corn.

"Corn is like the quarterback of a football team," he says. "It gets all the attention, but if it takes a good hit, it sits on the bench. Soybeans are like the guard up front on the line. They take a beating and keep on kicking."

All this prompted this issue's cover story (see articles starting on page 33) and the High Yield Team project. We thought soybeans still had too much potential to give up on. Our hope was and still is to provide soybean growers with cutting-edge information and the motivation to boost their bean yields.

And it worked! Admittedly, picture-perfect growing conditions in most of the U.S. were key. Nevertheless, the end result was a 3-billion-bushel bin buster and record average yields of 43.3 bushels an acre.

No one expected soybeans to pull a modern-day Lazarus or for Asian rust to fizzle in 2005. Soybeans have bounced back into vogue.

For example, projected 2005 returns from the Illinois Farm Business Farm Management records tabbed soybeans as the most profitable Illinois row crop. Their average $162-an-acre net return topped the average $156-an-acre net return for corn following soybeans.

Projected 2006 returns are for corn after soybeans and soybeans to be roughly equal in profit. Still, last year's improved soybean yields and skyrocketing energy prices might shift corn acres back to soybeans.

"The caveat, though, is we still have Asian soybean rust concerns out there," says Schnitkey.

Based on last year's results, soybean growers may underestimate the outbreak of rust. That contrasts with the packed rust meeting rooms of last winter, when many viewed rust as a scary and serious threat.

Don't let up. Sure, it didn't arrive in the Corn Belt last year. But it will come some year. "We had very unusual weather patterns last year that limited the spread," reminds Ron Heck, a Perry, Iowa, farmer and farmer panelist on the High Yield Team.

Glyphosate weed-control systems simplified soybean production to the point of planting, spraying twice, and harvesting. No more. The advent of Asian rust and other pests has made growing soybeans more complicated.

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