Seed Bean Breakdown
By Jason Jenkins, Mill Creek Communications
Not all soybeans are created equal.
All spring and summer, those emerald green fields across the Show-Me State do indeed lookquite similar. Even into fall when they turn golden, there’s no distinguishing one from another. But all beans aren’t the same.
While the vast majority are destined for the local elevator, some are headed for specialty marketsthanks to special traits hidden inside those round yellow seeds. And some are headed back to the fieldwhere they will give rise to the next crop.
Brian Martin has produced all types of soybeans on his 1,500-acre farm outside of Centralia in centralMissouri. He grows some of the latest releases of herbicide-resistant varieties as well as conventionalones. Two of the past three years, he’s grown and sold conventional soybean seed — taking advantageof opportunities to increase his return on investment.
Martin says that from his perspective, the most important step when growing conventional seed beans is securing a customer for that seed before a single acre is planted. Admittedly, the market forsuch seed is small. This season, the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service estimated that only 6 percent — roughly 306,000 acres — of Missouri’s 5.1 million soybean acres were planted to non-GMO varieties.
“I’ve got to have a home for them as seed beans,” he says. “At the end of the day, if I don’t have that contract and don’t sell them as seed, then they’re only worth the same as regular beans. It’s not necessarily worth the extra steps and extra work.”
Once that all-important end user is identified, the general process of growing seed beans isn’t much different than growing other seed beans or even standard conventional beans.
Martin says that is key to maintaining plant health and subsequent seed quality at each step during the growing season.
“It’s not all that different from raising other seed stock,” he says. “If you’re raising herd bulls or replacements females, for example, you treat them
a little bit different or with a little bit more care than the ones in the feedlot. With soybean seed production, you take those concepts of an extra level of care and apply them throughout the whole process.”
At planting time, that means beginning with an effective weed management strategy. Martin prefers to apply a full rate of a soil-residual herbicide andplant on the same day — maximizing hisweed-control window until the soybean plants close the canopy.
“I don’t want any weeds to emerge because in the conventional beans, I don’t have as many options for control after the crop is up,” he says.
“Personally, I can’t stand to burn a field.I don’t like to see a soybean plant have a bad day. A plant is a factory, and any time you take away from its capacity to photosynthesize, that’s a reduction in its potential.”
For seed beans, Martin increases hisseeding rate, planting with a 15-inch rowspacing. The higher plant population accelerates the time to canopy and helps ensure an excellent stand. He adds that it’s important to clean out the planter thoroughly before beginning.
After the crop has emerged, monitoring regularly for pests and diseases also is important to maintaining seed quality. By watching closely and applying insecticides, fungicides and foliar feed treatments in a timely manner, Martin says he keeps the plants healthy, improving standability at harvest time.
“Seed quality isn’t just broken seed coats or beans that don’t germinate. It’s also disease,” he says, noting that soybeanseed could be infected with Cercosporaleaf spot without any visual indication, although purple seed stain often appears with it.
“When you’re producing seed, you need to continue that investment in the crop to carry it throughout the season.
“It’s easy to not top-dress your corn because it didn’t rain in July, and the crop didn’t need any more nitrogen,” he continues. “It’s not necessarily the same when you’re trying to keep that plant healthy all the way through.”
When harvest time does arrive, and it’s time to cut seed beans, a season’s worth of effort hinges upon the decisions made inside the combine. Martin says weather and crop condition need to be ideal to maintain quality seed production.
“It just can’t be some random time when they’re a little bit too wet or they’re a little bit too dry,” he says. “That’s why plant health is so important. Those plants can stand up and the pods will stay intact and you’re not worried about shattering out or lodging.”
Combine settings need to be adjusted to be as gentle on the beans as possible to prevent damage that will impact germination score.
On the Martin farm, modifications weremade within the combine’s rotor cage so that the initial threshing is crop-on-crop material rather than crop-on-steel. As with the planter, clean out between crops and varieties remains important.
“Because I know I’ll be cleaning them, I intentionally set the machine to harvest fairly dirty as far as my tank sample,” Martin says, adding that the extra MOG (material other than grain) would likely result in a dockage were he taking the beans straight to the elevator.
“As an additional clean-out, we run a couple loads through that we will intentionally not save for seed.”
Other considerations include segregation, storage and transportation— all of which add to production costs.
However, the result is a product that can be sold at a higher price.
Martin says that by taking the extra management steps, they have achieved germination rates above 90 percent with their conventional seed beans,which he’s sold in the $30-$40 range per unit — a price far and away above anypremium he might receive for raising non-GMO beans.
“There’s more costs and more steps involved, but the upside potential is a lot greater than just a couple bucks on a larger-scale production,” he adds.
This year, Martin raised some acres of conventional beans, albeit not for seed production. He’s keeping an eye on new future opportunities, including MoberlyNatural Crush (MNC), a startup companythat plans to produce specialty soybean meal and oil to be sold to producers of natural food products.
The company is currently in Stage Two of a three-stage equity drive, which when complete will allow MNC to purchase the soybean crush and oil refinery equipment necessary to operate at a capacity of 96 tons per day, processing about 1.2 million bushels annually.
Once the facility comes online, demand for non-GMO soybeans produced in central and north Missouri will likely increase, offering growers like Martin a new market and a chance to earn more for the soybeans they raise.
“I think there’s definitely a small part ofthe market that can continue to support conventional production, but there’s got to be more end users,” he says.
“For every acre in seed production, you need many more acres of actual regular production that has a home and pays a premium. A niche is only a niche untilthe market is filled and needs are met.”
In the December issue, Missouri Soybean Farmer wraps up its series on growing conventional soybeans with a look at harvest and winter marketing plans.
Find the rest of the issue here.