Monday, 27 February 2017

My Rumsey Soybean Presentation

   I was asked to do a presentation for some local growers this winter. I presented this slide show and was very nervous to begin with as it was my first time ever doing anything like this but it did get easier as it went on when people started asking questions. I thought I would share this here so that others could see it and help me add important information or correct me if I've misspoken. This is just my own personal experience and I am in no way claiming to be an expert.

Slide 1: Growing soybeans in Central Alberta

  Hello everyone, I think I know most of you but my name is John Kowalchuk and I farm by Rumsey.
If at any time you have a question please feel free to ask. Hopefully we will also have time at the end to go through any other questions as well. This is the first time I’ve talked about growing soybeans with more than 1 or 2 people at a time so bear with me

Slide 2: background

  First maybe a little background of what got me thinking of growing soybeans back 5 years ago.
  I was looking to get another crop in my rotation. I grow yellow peas and have good luck with them but due to the fact they can be tougher to harvest some years I limit my acres. Currently my rotation is Wheat/Canola/Barley/Peas or Soybeans.
  So I did some investigating on the internet of course and started asking seed companies if I could buy some seed off them. It was a lot tougher to get seed then I thought it would be. Supplies of early beans are very limited and companies weren’t willing to sell them into my area in Central Alberta fearing bad PR I guess.
  But thanks to some nagging and the help of Mike Hoppins in Trochu I was able to get 2 mini bulks from Dekalb 2 years ago. With none available locally they had to be couriered in from Ontario. Then shortly before seeding they asked me to do a plot for them as well.

Now I first want to preface this presentation with a warning.

Soybeans can be grown in Alberta but not in all areas yet.

  I've had many people tell me the story of the neighbor who tried them back 5 or 10 years ago and had a wreck. This could have been caused by a few things but also could be because the varieties just aren't there yet to grow in that area. I've grown them 2 years and got them to maturity but long term I'm not sure so that is why I'll keep trying them.
  I started with 30 acres 2 years ago and then 80 ac last year and plan on 80 ac this coming year. So start small and test the waters first is my biggest advice.
Today I want to share what worked for me and what I have learned from talking to others so if you decide to try them you will have a head start on where I began.

Slide 3: Heat units

Before we talk varieties and agronomy let’s talk Crop heat units. These are important in the development and maturity of all plants.

The above graph shows how they are calculated
each day using the high and low temperatures.

We get the majority of CHU in August in my area of Alberta.

Heat units slow down significantly in September most years.

Slide 4: finding chu’s for your area

  CHU’s are not as consistent in an area as you would think. 
They can change drastically in only 4 or 5 miles depending on many variables.

  First look at the average Chu’s in your area by finding your closest weather station. I use the Alberta historical weather site. 
Go back 5 yrs and do an average using a start date like May 15th and an end date of October 15th  

Slide 5: weather station data

  Here’s some Data from my local area that I looked up for the growing season in 2015. These are a good guideline for your area but we all know our own fields the best and where our crops seem to mature better and what fields are later. These numbers show us what varieties have a chance in our area and even if it’s possible to grow soybeans at all

Slide 6: Varieties

  These are just some of the earliest varieties that I’ve tried over the last 2 years. 
These varieties have their pros and cons. The earlier varieties sometimes don't have the pod height or even the yield to make them viable so be careful when choosing one to try and do your homework.

-New earlier varieties are on the horizon
Triple zero’s or early varieties are coming down the pipe and may offer higher yields in lower chu areas.

-Earliest isn’t always the best P001 for example they are early but very short and low yielding.

  Small plots will see heavy wildlife damage so I would recommend 10-15 acres minimum for a test plot. 1 acre plots may get devoured by Deer and Rabbits!

  So once you’ve chosen a variety and sourced some seed, maybe a mini bulk or 2. Here are a few things you need to know about growing them

Slide 7 how seed arrives

  Bags can be hard to get compared to mini bulks. I've used both and mini bulks are way easier to use. A unit consists of 140,000 seeds most of the time.

Slide 8 What makes them different to grow -early cold

-Early seeding is not good

  Even though they are a large seed they are nothing like peas. In fact they are way more like canola.
Sustained soil temperatures of 10 Celsius at 10 am are needed before considering putting them in the ground. The first 24 hrs is so important in plant development. Many studies have been done showing how warm weather the first day followed by a week of cold days is better than a cold first day followed by a week of 25. So don’t rush the seeding date. Even afternoon seeding has been shown to have a benefit. 

  Be patient and don't feel they need to be in the ground when it is still cold. Wait for the ground and air temperatures to be warm. I look at the forecasts and wait to see a decent week coming up along with 10 degree soil temperatures.

Slide 9: Seed depth

  Another reason they are like canola is seed depth 1” deep works quite well if the moisture is there. 1-1.5” is recommended.
  Most seed companies will treat and liquid inoculate the seed before you get it. But you should add a granular inoculant alongside the seed as well. Double inoculation is important because this is a different Rhizobium to our area and it will aid in the forming of the nitrogen fixing nodules. It is different from the inoculant we use on peas so don’t get them mixed up because they will do nothing, they are not interchangeable. Just like any inoculant it is a living organism so store it in a cool dark area and never carry any over from year to year.

  Seed is sold in units which of 140,000 seeds. If your using an airdrill like me on 10” spacing I single shoot about 180,000 seeds/acre and the granular goes with it. It usually works out to about 70lbs or so depending on the seed type you get. 

The link below will help you to find the proper seed 

Slide 10: Seeding

  I use a regular air drill and direct seed but do see the benefit of less trash which will help the soil to warm up quicker. Tillage in the fall or heavy harrowing could help.

  Soybeans need to be kept separate from peas and chickpeas in the bin and in the field. They are hard to clean out of each other and could cause a crop to be down graded just like barley in wheat.

  Dry bean growers cannot grow soybeans at all. The companies who buy dry beans have that right in their contracts.

Slide 11: Special equipment needed

-Soybeans very seldom go flat or even lean but the pods can be low hanging. Even to the point where they are touching the ground so land rolling is important if you have dirt clumps or rocks.

-A flex header of some type similar to what you use for peas works great. I’ve used both a flex auger type and a draper and a flex header can make you money.

-They are very easy threshing from what I have seen so far but it's easy to leave the low pods if you go to quickly and aren't keeping the header low.

Slide 12: Spraying RR Soybeans

I've added the fungicide Priaxor but most people you talk to feel that there is no benefit. I only do it because of my small acres and hope for some yield benefit.

Similar to spraying RR canola. 2 applications should be applied. 
Viper can be used to control RR canola but increase your costs and unless you have quite a few they don't seem to affect yield and only look bad.

Slide 13: Cost of Production

These numbers will vary greatly from farm to farm. Some of you may do these calculations and come to the conclusion that Soybeans are not profitable on your farm.

Soybeans do not pencil out to much of a profit till you hit 35-40 bu/ac.

Seed costs are higher but no Fertilizer is used. I've heard up to $125/ acre but I think if you buy early you can get them cheaper.

Chemical costs can be lower than some other crops.

30 bu/ac is my number I want to hit to be competitive with other crops with benefit of rotation. Long term benefits of having Soybeans in my rotation will undoubtedly help my soil and only time will tell how much. 

Crop insurance is available through AFSC through the New crop initiative.

Slide 14: 2016 Plot results

  The above plot results show how some varieties never got to dry but yielded quite well. This is more than likely due to the higher chu requirements that weren't met in 2016.
Some varieties were close to dry and showed decent yields.

Slide 15 Marketing

  In Alberta we have only a few options but I have had good luck with Marketplace Commodities and selling them into Granum Alberta. It's only a 2.5 hour haul and a good facility to unload at.

Slide 16:

  I post regularly through the growing seasons on Mondays mainly to be used as a type of diary so I can compare year to year and also look back at development.

I use the hashtag #RumseySoybeans on twitter under @kowalchukfarms 

I've also done a year end blog/history the last 2 years to sum up what I've done and learned.

  I've had quite a bit of help from many people with experience growing Soybeans across Canada and North America over the last few years. They have been more than willing to share their grower knowledge with me.

  I am very thankful to them and only wish to share what I've learned. Like I said at the start I am only a farmer and not an expert by no means. I put seed in the ground and try to do all the little things right and hope it grows.

If you have any comments or suggestions please contact me on twitter or through email at :

Below are just some extra slides showing plant development on my farm.

Slides 17-28: Plant stages and Info

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