Farmers will plant up to 2.5 million more acres this year
The corn crop on Bill Gordon’s southwest Minnesota farm got clobbered this past summer after no discernible rain fell for a three-month stretch. Soybeans struggled as well, though they rallied after a 1.5" soaking in late August. In fact, Gordon combined an average of 50 bu. of soybeans per acre at harvest—only 5 bu. off the high end of what he considers a normal yield.
"We were more than a little surprised by that," he says. "I looked at Dad and said there’s no way the yield monitor’s right, but it was."
The ability of soybeans to seize even a small amount of moisture late in the season and produce a crop is the main reason the Worthington, Minn., farmer will stay with a 50/50 corn-soybean rotation, especially as weather experts say 2013 might consist of another drought.
"We’ve tried other rotations, including corn-on-corn, but found we were taking a pretty big hit in second-year corn," says Gordon, who serves on the board of directors for the American Soybean Association.
"It takes more management and a lot more fertilizer to get those corn yields up," he adds. "We found over a four-year average that our gross-per-acre didn’t improve with corn-on-corn, and that it’s better for us to try and increase our soybean yields."
Darren Hefty is telling farmers soybeans could be their high-dollar crop this year.
"With the chance to market beans at around $15 per bushel, and many growers seeing upward of 60 bu. yields, there’s some excellent potential," says Hefty, who co-owns Hefty Seed Company in Baltic, S.D.
Dustin Johnson, a broker with EHedger, expects soybeans will gain acres, along with corn, at the expense of wheat and, in some regions, cotton.
"We see soybean acres at 79.5 million (acres)," Johnson reports.
That is 2.5 million acres more than the 77 million acres that USDA estimates farmers planted in 2012.
Johnson points to new crop prices and subsoil moisture as the biggest factors influencing these numbers.
"With what we know today, we see total corn and soybean acres up 4 million combined," he says.
"Whether the acres go primarily to corn or soybeans depends on the price ratio and, obviously, weather."
Where corn is king. "When you look at central Indiana, northern Illinois, Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota, I think they will be wall-to-wall corn," predicts Bob Utterback, Farm Journal economist.
However, Utterback believes farmers will be hard-pressed to reach the same total corn acreage numbers they planted in 2012, which was 96.9 million, according to USDA. "The only way it’ll happen is if the bean market gets hammered or we have exceptionally good planting conditions."
That’s what Scott Houck hopes for this spring.
"We had really good irrigated corn last year, and then the conditions were just right for fall fertilizer applications," says Houck, who farms in south-central Nebraska, near Strang.
Glyphosate-resistant waterhemp and giant ragweed escapes in soybeans this past season also figure into his equation to plant more corn.
Overall, Houck, who serves on the Nebraska Soybean Checkoff Board, estimates soybeans will be down in his area between 5% and 10%.
Yet, in other areas that were hit hard by the drought, such as Illinois, Indiana and Ohio, along with the southern edge of the Corn Belt, Utterback anticipates farmers will shift more to soybeans, or to a wheat-soybean double-crop strategy.
Some of this switching will result, he says, where farmers have seen two straight years of corn-after-corn acres that have underperformed compared with corn-after-bean acres.
Farmers switching to soybeans this season need to consider that the 2012 drought might contribute to a reduction of bradyrhizobium, a microorganism necessary for nitrogen fixation.
"It might be an issue in fields that have had only one or two years of soybeans or have other issues, such as low pH," explains Kraig Roozeboom, Kansas State University Extension soybean specialist.
On the other hand, he says, farmers who plant soybeans after failed corn might have excess residual nitrogen still in the soil profile. That can inhibit nodulation early in the season, thereby potentially reducing soybean production later in the season.
"If you think that is the case in your fields, non-legumes may be a more efficient option for you," he says.
Regardless, farmers who want to hit higher soybean yields need to focus more on the fertility levels in their fields, Hefty says.
Farmers often undervalue phosphorus and potassium. Hefty says that farmers who aim for 60 bu. soybeans need to know that the grain alone removes 48 lb. of phosphate and 84 lb. of K20 potassium per acre. Stover takes up to 20 lb. of phosphate and 50 lb. of K20 potassium on a per-acre basis.
"Using MAP (11-52-0), it would take 130 lb. of product to put out that much phosphate," Hefty says. "For potash (0-0-60), it would take 225 lb. of product to apply that much K20 potassium."
Based on annual soil tests, each fall Gordon split applies phosphorus and potash on his corn and soybean ground.
"Split applications make them more readily available to both crops," Gordon says. "That way there’s no excess fertilizer just sitting on my ground."
Rob Myers, University of Missouri Extension plant scientist and regional director of the USDA–Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program, adds that farmers need to diversify soybean varieties by maturity and planting dates to reduce risk.
"Varieties that mature a little early, combined with early planting dates, can get the critical flowering and seed-set period into a time when the soil might not be quite as dry," he says.
However, Roozeboom says Kansas farmers who saw significant shattering in fields in 2012 might want to plant soybeans a bit later to minimize a repeat of the problem. "Later planting also allows the soybean crop to take maximum advantage of moderating temperatures the state often has in late August," he adds. "Later planted fields were often our highest-yielding soybeans last year."
You can e-mail Rhonda Brooks at email@example.com.