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Soybean Board Chairman Wary of High Crop Prices

9/1/2012 7:00 AM
By Chris Torres Staff Writer

Field Day Showcases Soybean Research

MANHEIM, Pa. — With late summer providing ample rain and bright sunshine, soybean growers are primed to take advantage of a very good market this fall.

“I think the soybean yields will be up this year with the rainfall. The rain came late and it saved it so the bean crop ought to do real well,” said Daryl Alger, who grows 4,000 acres of soybeans in and around south-central Pennsylvania.

But Alger, who is chairman of the Pennsylvania Soybean Board, warns producers not to get too giddy over high soybean prices, which as of Tuesday were hovering around $17.30 a bushel on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.

“High pricing is not good for Pennsylvania agriculture. Grain producers enjoy the price, but they know they will pay the price,” he said.

Soybean prices have been trending higher for most of the summer, due mostly to the Midwest drought, with the Aug. 10 USDA World Ag Supply and Demand Estimate report estimating this year’s soybean yield to be 2.7 billion bushels, 358 million bushels lower than previous estimates due to lower harvested area and yields.

A report this week by Reuters indicates the harvest may be even lower than the government’s official estimates.

That in turn has raised prices to record levels, and the USDA report estimates that prices will stay between $15 and $17 a bushel for the near future.

Sounds like good news for large soybean producers like Alger. But he thinks the situation will be short-lived. He fears high prices could lead to overproduction if livestock producers, who have been hurt by high grain prices, start going out of business.

“We have to be prepared where it flip-flops and goes the other way, where this thing doesn’t dominate itself and can create overproduction,” he said. “Because American farmers can produce and we will, and high prices will produce more.

“So this can flip-flop in 18 months and if we lose a number of our livestock producers in the interim, we’re going to need them in 18 months and we won’t have them. That’s my concern,” he said.

High prices had many people talking at the soybean field day last week at Penn State’s Southeast Ag Research and Extension Center.

The annual event, which this year attracted more than 100 people, showcases the money being spent on research by the soybean board, which is funded itself through checkoff dollars paid by farmers.

It included tours of various soybean variety trials, spray program trials and the latest information on diseases and pests affecting producers around the state.

Del Voight, Penn State Extension agronomy educator, led a tour of two field trials, examining herbicide results in soybean fields treated with various inoculants and growth promoters, along with another trial examining various herbicide mixes.

The research done at the southeast Extension center is crucial, since crop treatments showing the most promising results are then replicated at the 29 farms participating in the state’s on-farm research network.

Voight said that, on average, one treatment per year is recommended for inclusion in the Penn State agronomy guide.

Even though it’s still a little early, Voight said he’s been encouraged by another trial showing the impact of applying molybdenum, a micronutrient, at different pH levels to promote growth.

“I think that if I looked at all of our plots, probably the molybdenum trial, where we put molybdenum on the seed in a low pH environment, will have the most yield impact. That’s worked out really well this year,” he said.

Bill Curran, professor of weed science at Penn State, led a discussion on horseweed (marestail) and the current options for controlling the pesky weed, which is made even trickier given the fact that it has become glyphosate resistant.

He said the key to controlling a potential outbreak is getting to it early before it even has a chance to establish itself in a field.

“Kill it before it comes up because you don’t want to have to deal with it afterward. At that point, it gets much more difficult,” Curran said.

Applying the herbicide 2,4-D, he said, can provide some post-emergence protection, along with various ALS inhibitors.

Liberty Link soybeans, Curran said, which are tolerant of the Liberty herbicide, are a good option for growers wanting to stay away from glyphosate use. But their production potential, he said, isn’t enough to persuade most soybean growers to switch over.

Bill Angstadt, president of Angstadt Consulting Inc., talked about the launch of the Pennsylvania 4Rs Alliance, which has been developed by PennAg Industries.

Angstadt said the purpose of the alliance is to promote good nutrient management practices when talking about manure and chemical application by promoting its application in the right place at the right time, but also promoting better education of farming practices to the public.

“It’s really an attempt by PennAg Industries to rally around the idea that we need to change the story,” he said. “We really need to tell the story of productive agriculture, that the dialogue is so dominated by regulations and limits and reductions. But there is another side of it, that we need to achieve productivity and economic returns for farmers.”

Angstadt said the goal is to promote collaboration between regulatory agencies and the ag community, with plans to provide professional training to nutrient-management planners and environmental regulators.

“We’re trying to get all of these stakeholders in ag to start looking at this issue of nutrient management and stewardship,” he said.


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