Acreage is up to 1.8 million, yield is up to 34 bushels per acre, price is good and all signs point to another good year for soybean producers in North Carolina.

Last year’s yield average tied a 10-year high, despite some horrific late season rain and freezes that reduced yields and kept soybean combines going well into 2010 in many parts of the Southeast. Without the bad weather, yield records would probably have happened in all the upper Southeast soybean producing states.

Bobby Joe Fisher, who has farmed all his life, has seen soybeans come and go in Nash County, N.C. He was on the state soybean board back in the 1980s and was recently elected to a second term as president of the North Carolina Soybean Growers Association.

“We are in the heart of North Carolina’s tobacco industry and have for a number of years been big in cotton acreage. However, in 2009, we planted more soybeans in Nash County than ever — in large part a result of reduced cotton acreage,” he says. Fisher, now retired and living in Rocky Mount, N.C., remains active in supporting agriculture in general and soybean production in particular.

“Overseas markets are looking for protein and soybeans are a good source. These markets are critical to our success with a number of crops, including soybeans,” Fisher adds.

“Back in the 1980s, when we grew soybeans, compared to today it is a totally different world. Back then 20-25 bushels per acre was good and to make 30 bushels per acre was an outstanding crop. Now, we have growers producing more than 80 bushels per acre and we average about 35 bushels per acre,” he adds.

“Today’s farmers have to depend on research and new technology to make it work with soybeans and most crops. Farmers who look at results of research are going to prosper and those who don’t will go away. For example, you just have to match varieties to your particular soil type and growing conditions,” he says.

Many North Carolina soybean growers heeded Fisher’s advice in 2009, producing a record crop that would have been better had it not been for late season rain.

“By far our biggest problem with the 2009 crop was getting it harvested,” says Charles Hall, executive director of the North Carolina Soybean Growers Association. “Like soybeans all across the country, our crop in North Carolina was delayed coming out of the field. Other than that it was a beautiful crop with near ideal growing conditions until the fall rains came,” Hall adds.

Soybean production in the Tar Heel State has gradually inched upward over the past three years. Hall notes that state growers produced about 60 millions bushels, up from 45 million bushels per year three years ago. “Prices are good, and 2010 looks good right now for soybean production in our state,” Hall says.

“During the growing season last year, I had hopes that one of the yield contest entries would top the magical 100 bushels per acre. We had several come close, but I’m not sure whether one of these growers would have gotten to 100 bushels per acre had we not had such a wet harvest season,” he adds.

The key to 2010 marketing success is to continue to pursue overseas markets, Fisher says. “The Chinese in particular like our North Carolina beans. I don’t know whether it’s the high protein content of our beans or what, but they really like our soybeans,” he adds.

For 2010 Fisher says paying attention to the science of growing soybeans is going to be critical. “Our growers association supports research at North Carolina State and by USDA scientists and these folks do a great job of putting good information out there for growers. Taking advantage of this information to make best management decisions is just critical for growers,” he adds.

Long-term, Hall says, USDA researcher Tommy Carter, in particular, has some really promising soybean varieties in the pipeline. Drought resistance and heat resistance qualities that will give North Carolina growers more options are in the pipeline, but a few years from commercialization, Hall says.

One of the biggest challenges for soybean growers in 2010 will be to reduce the loss of soybeans to wildlife. Hall says growers in his state annually lose an estimated $20 million to deer and other wildlife damage. In fact, yield losses to white-tail deer are right up there with some of the bigger yield robbers in soybeans.

“We will be getting some more scientific data soon to help us determine the extent of wildlife damage. Needless to say, anything we can do, including encouraging more hunting, will be beneficial to help reduce the loss of soybean yields to wildlife.”

For 2010, Hall says it’s too early to tell how many acres will be planted, but based on current prices and comparable costs and prices of other crops, an acreage increase is expected.

Prices look good, Fisher adds. “In a recent meeting with the national soybean board, prices were being projected at $10 or more per bushel for soybeans and $4.50 for corn. There is no doubt input costs will also continue to rise, but from a marketing standpoint, 2010 looks like a good year for soybean production in North Carolina,” Fisher says.

“We still have a viable animal industry in North Carolina, which is the primary end-user of our beans. Plus, we are developing these foreign markets. So, combined it will take a lot of soybeans to feed the chickens and hogs in this state and to have a good supply for our export markets,” Hall says.

“Our export market, compared to national soybean growers, is very small. They send about every other row overseas, and we only export 1 percent to 2 percent of our crop. So, we have plenty of room to expand our export market to compensate for any reductions in livestock production,” he adds.

“We have a little advantage in our protein content over beans grown in other parts of the country. Plus, we can load container ships right out of some of our elevators, so our beans are very clean. Buyers like our clean beans and high protein beans,” he says.

“Right now North Carolina beans are loaded onto container ships out of the ports of Wilmington, N.C., and Norfolk, Va. So, our freight costs are much lower than the Midwest and right now container availability is good. The biggest challenge is to load enough containers, because only a few elevators load containers, he adds.

Barring some unforeseen weather-related problems, 2010 should be a really good year for soybeans in North Carolina, Hall and Fisher agree.

e-mail: rroberson@farmpress.com