Cool days and nights combined with adequate moisture this summer will translate into a bumper soybean harvest for farmers in Frederick, Md.
"We're looking for one of the best crops we've had in a long time," Union Bridge, Md., farmer David Burrier told the Frederick (Md.) News-Post.
Insufficient moisture and too much heat are limiting factors when it comes to soybean yield, but not this year, said Burrier, who grows 400 acres of beans.
Corn is the No. 1 crop grown in Frederick County and No. 2 is soybeans. Frederick County farmers grow about 30,000 to 36,000 acres of soybeans a year. Soybean volume in Frederick County is followed by wheat, then barley. Maryland soybean farmers averaged 39 bushels per acre in 2013, with a total production of 18.5 million bushels.
Soybeans have come a long way from being used mainly for oil. U.S. soybean farmers grow soybean for food, feed and fuel, but the legume is also used to produce a variety of products, including plastics, lubricants, coatings, printing inks, crayons and adhesives.
The beans can be planted as a full-season crop or as a double-crop after small grains (wheat, barley) are harvested, said Stanley W. Fultz, University of Maryland dairy science extension agent.
Most beans are sold as a cash crop for processing. The beans are pressed to extract the oil, and the residual meal is used as a protein feed for chicken, hogs and dairy cattle, Fultz said. Some beans remain on Frederick County farms, where they are roasted and then fed to dairy cows. These roasted beans provide both an energy — since the oil is still present — and protein supply to the cattle.
The main buyer for Frederick County soybeans is chicken producer Purdue, which processes 50,000 bushels of soybean daily, Burrier said.
Frederick County soybean growers load their harvest on train cars in Keymar that are transported to Purdue's processing plant in Norfolk, Virginia, where some of the beans are exported to China.
"China buys one out of every four rows of soybeans grown in the U.S.," Burrier said. "So, we're lucky to live in an area where we have an export facility that's not too far."
Soybeans will continue to enjoy high demand for the foreseeable future.
"Sustained demand increases are expected for soybeans for animal feed, vegetable oil, and biodiesel, with a projected growth of 60 percent by 2025," according to WorldWatch Institute.
University of Maryland Principal Agent Emeritus Terry Poole is considered a local soybean historian, of sorts.
"We had just a few scattered acres of soybeans in the county before I introduced them to our farmers in 1981 at my Ag field day," Poole said.
Poole said he showed farmers the best varieties for this area and how to grow and harvest them.
"Since then, we have seen a fairly steady growth in the number of (soybean) acres," Poole said.
One positive aspect of soy is that the crop doesn't need nitrogen, whereas corn needs nitrogen.
The legume produces its own nitrogen, which reduces production costs.
The price of corn and nitrogen has an impact on the number of soybean acres we have, Poole said, adding that when corn prices are strong, there are fewer acres of beans.
The price of nitrogen is tied to the price of energy/natural gas, so when energy prices are high, the price of nitrogen is high. Because corn requires a lot of nitrogen, its production costs go up with nitrogen, Poole said.
Both corn and soybean prices have been great over recent years with the development of the ethanol industry aiding corn prices, the decline in the South American competition and the strong demand for soybean-based products, Poole said.
But given the limited availability of suitable farmland in the county, Poole believes "we have reached a limit on the acres we grow in both corn and soybeans. The total acres for each will vary each year as costs and prices change."