Soybean growers in the Carolina’s and Virginia have more than two million acres of beans planted this year, much of the acreage in a late-planted, double-crop combination with wheat, barley, oats and a few other winter season crops.

Keeping bean pods on the plant and harvesting the maximum yield this year is what long-time North Carolina State University Corn and Grain Specialist Ronnie Heiniger calls a once in a blue moon opportunity.

Rarely, he says, do grain growers in the Southeast find themselves in a position in which weather conditions indicate a good yielding, high quality crop and marketing conditions indicate a record high price. This combination only happens once in a blue moon, he says.

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Growers in the Upper Southeast have planted plenty of soybeans this year, and in doing so, have one of the potentially most valuable bean crops on record.

In North Carolina, it is estimated growers planted in excess 1.4 million acres in 2012, up 4 percent over 2011. An early maturing wheat crop and 800,000 acres planted to wheat most likely means a large percentage of the 2012 soybean crop will be planted behind wheat, and perhaps earlier than usual for double-crop beans.

In Virginia, it is estimated that another 600,000 or so acres of soybeans are in the ground. LikeNorth Carolina, much of the Virginia crop is late-planted in a double-crop system with wheat or other winter crops.

In South Carolina, soybeans have traditionally been a secondary crop, but this year more beans were planted on better land and the opportunity for upping the state average yield is good.

Clemson University Entomologist Jeremy Greene says taking care of late-season insects is a good bet to keeping yield potential high.

“Soybean loopers, corn earworms, velvetbean caterpillars, stink bugs, and kudzu bugs are building in my fields So, growers need to have a consultant look at their soybeans, or need to do it themselves,” Greene says

Species identification is essential to managing the complex of insects that can infest soybeans regularly this time of year. Remember, those identifications will determine what insecticides need to be applied, he adds.

Historically, soybean growers in the Upper Southeast have averaged less than 30 bushels per acre, and in recent years closer to 25 bushels per acre.

Went on better land

However, the high price of soybeans at planting time this year likely influenced many growers to put soybeans on better land. The combination of a good mid-summer weather pattern, better soil, improved soybean production technology and the tendency to increase input costs relative to crop value indicate yields could go up significantly this year.

There are some cards on the table turned up, and they don’t do anything to dampen the optimism of any farmer with soybeans in the ground.

The remaining cards to be turned over are a little less of a sure thing, but still there is little to indicate the final price of beans will be anything less than a record.

Soybean prices topped $15 per bushel in mid-August, and based on crop reduction in the Midwest and other areas of the world, it appears prices will remain good, providing growers with even more incentive to harvest all the beans they possibly can later this summer and into the early fall.

Even a 25 bushel per acre yield, plus the base differential paid locally for beans, could mean per acre soybean gross income potential of $400 per acre. On higher yielding acreage, especially under irrigation, the per acre gross potential could top $1,000 per acre.

Combine that income potential with 80-90 bushels of wheat, which were common in some parts of the Upper Southeast this year, and the per acre yield potential for the double-crop season could be in excess of $1,600 per acre.

Though rainfall in some parts of the Midwest may have saved some of the soybean crop this year, several grain market analysts say don’t believe all you hear from USDA projections.

When the USDA released its World Agriculture Supply and Demand Estimates in August, it pegged the U.S. soybean crop at 3.05 billion bushels, or about 40 bushels per acre on 76 million acres nationwide.

If growers across the heart of soybean country in the U.S. accomplished this yield, it would result in a drop of the average per acre yield of soybeans in the U.S. by just one bushel per acre.

Unlike most growing seasons when the size of the soybean crop is largely established during the last week of July through about the third week in August, this year's crop went into the ground 2-3 weeks early, especially single-crop beans in the Midwest.

The earlier than normal planting date put soybeans in critical pod setting stages of growth during some of the most adverse weather conditions in the Midwest in half a century.

In a mid-August USDA crop progress report, 36 percent of the entire U.S. soybean crop was already setting pods as of July 22, compared to just 13 percent of the crop at the same date a year ago.

The hardest hit drought states from east to west are Illinois-Indiana-Iowa and Nebraska. Those state make up about 40 percent of the total soybean crop in the U.S.

Drop is much too low

The numbers, plus anyone with any knowledge of grain crops, and who has seen late summer beans in those states will tell you a one bushel per acre drop in average yield is much, much too low.

In the Upper Southeast, growers harvested a record wheat crop in North Carolina and bigger than usual crops in South Carolina and Virginia.

If beans were planted behind most of these acres, they would have been planted in what for most of the region was a fairly normal season weather-wise.

Plus, they would have benefitted from weather conditions highly conducive to soybean production in most areas.

Exactly how many acres of beans were planted behind wheat is tough to determine.

In general, the warm winter led to early planted and early maturing wheat, which would indicate an earlier than usual harvest and earlier than usual planting of double-crop beans. If that is the case, most of the crop will be beyond the growth stage that makes it most vulnerable to yield limiting diseases, especially Asian Soybean Rust.

Soybean growers across the Upper Southeast have dodged a bullet with soybean rust so far this year, though tropical systems, most likely a result of the end of the La Niña weather pattern in place the past two years, still pose a threat to late planted soybeans.

On Aug. 28, soybeanrust was confirmed in a field of Maturity Group VII soybeans in Reeveville, S.C.  This location is roughly half way between Columbia and Charleston, S.C. 

This put a number of late-planted, double-crop beans in jeopardy in the lower half of South Carolina.

“We do not recommend spraying soybeans with a fungicide to control Asian Soybean Rust if they are not yet blooming, if they are blooming, but rust has not been confirmed within 100 miles, or if full sized seeds are present in the top of the plant (stage R6),” says North Carolina State University Soybean Specialist Jim Dunphy.

Even late-planted, double-crop beans in most of the state will be past the bloom stage, if rust continues to move south to north at its current pace.

However, powerful tropical storms could dramatically change the northward movement of disease-causing spores.

Whether or not the high value of soybeans this year means more growers will apply fungicides in an effort to keep disease damage to a minimum is not clear.

For growers contemplating the use of fungicides for insurance against soybean rust, Dunphy says, pre-bloom applications have seldom improved yields, and repeated applications will likely be needed to provide season-long protection against rust. 

The higher labeled rates tend to provide more days of prevention, and may thus require fewer applications. 

The triazole fungicides, alone or in combination with a strobilurin fungicide, will probably provide better prevention of rust than a strobilurin alone, he adds.

The true value of this year’s soybean crop in the Southeast won’t truly be known until beans are in the bin and contracted. However, heading into the final few weeks of soybean production in the region, beans have high value and chances for a good profit are really good.

rroberson@farmpress.com