Economics and agronomics appear to be in harmony for the 2008 soybean crop, leaving growers hopeful for both a big and a profitable crop.

Hot, dry weather has slowed soybean production in parts of the upper Southeast, but in general the 2008 crop, both conventional and double-crop, look good in terms of both price and production.

USDA reported in early July that U.S. farmers expected to harvest more than 72 million acres of soybeans. The 2008 crop is on schedule to be the third largest on record and up 17 percent from last year.

Even though planted acres were up, the USDA report shows stocks at 663 million bushels, down 13 million bushels from June estimates.

Prices remained good, with July 2008 contract prices finishing at over $16 per bushel, while November 2008 futures closed at $15.74 per bushel. Most analysts agree soybean prices should stay high well into the 2009 trading season.

The key for soybean growers is to maximize yield for the remainder of the 2008 crop to take full advantage of what has been a bull market. A 30 percent drop in crude oil prices may cloud the future of soybean prices in the short-run, but in the long-run maximum yield is the best road to success for growers.

North Carolina State University Soybean Specialist Jim Dunphy says there is little growers can do by the end of July to increase production of the soybean plant, but there are some things growers should do to insure they harvest as much of the crop as possible.

Dunphy includes in his list of things to do between now and harvest:

  • I would recommend growers continue to scout for pests, and take note of any other problems that are apparent.

  • You'll probably have to live with weeds that become apparent that late, but it is still worth noting what weeds are where to help plan your weed control program for next year.

  • Be sure to stay alert for possible resistant weeds.

  • Nematode problems are in about the same boat; you'll live with the problem this year, but you can use this year's observations to help plan next year's management.

  • Insects are usually manageable, since we have almost no significant soybean insect pests that cannot be managed if you can find and identify them. We do, however, have a definite possibility of an insect population developing that can cause significant yield reductions, especially in the Tidewater and Coastal Plain areas of the state.

  • Diseases are probably the most difficult pest complex to manage, since most of our fungicides are most effective if they get to the soybeans before the disease organism does, and many of our later season disease problems are dependent on weather conditions, and, therefore, difficult to predict.

  • Remember that nothing good is going to happen to the soybeans after they first get ready to harvest, so leaving them in the fieldfor any extra days is of no advantage.

  • Remember to go low (with the cutter bar) and slow (to take the time to do as good a job as you know how to). Every 4 beans per square foot left in the field represents about bushel per acre left in the field, and with today's prices, that's pretty expensive to leave very many in the field.

Dunphy says growers should keep tabs on soybean rust development and take special care to sort out fact from rumors. “Know ahead of time which reports to rely on and be prepared to spray your entire acreage if soybean rust gets too close,” he says.

A good rule of thumb to follow on spraying for soybean rust, Dunphy says, is to not spray after soybeans get full sized beans in the pods in the top of the plants, because the soybeans will soon be as big as they are going to get anyway.

Soybean rust has not made significant movement away from the Gulf Coast this year and no active infections have been found in sentinel plots in South Carolina, North Carolina or in Virginia. There is some concern that the recent tropical storm that formed off the Florida coast and moved up the Carolina-Virginia coast may have spread rust spores, but so far none have been detected.

If rust moves into the Carolinas early enough, it could cause significant yield losses and put a damper on what is shaping up as a really good year for upper Southeast soybean growers.

In North Carolina, North Carolina State Plant Pathologist Steve Koenning says, “Sentinel plots in North Carolina have all been planted and are currently being monitored on a weekly basis. Brown spot, frogeye leaf spot, and soybean downy mildew have been detected in sentinel plot samples, but no Asian soybean rust.”

“Conditions for soybean foliar diseases have been favorable and a number of diseases will be more evident. Although recent conditions have been good for rust development in North Carolina, the rust spore production south of North Carolina remains minimal, so there are few sources of spores at this time,” Koenning adds.

On July 17, rust was reported once again on kudzu from St. Mary's Parish in Louisiana. On July 10, two new counties in Florida, Hamilton and Columbia, were confirmed to have rust-infected kudzu. On July 9, the first report of soybean rust in Georgia (Brooks County) was confirmed on soybeans.

Since the beginning of 2008, soybean rust has been reported in one county in Alabama, one county in Georgia, 13 counties in Florida, three counties in Louisiana, one county in Mississippi, and three counties in Texas.

Rust was also reported in three states (five municipalities) in Mexico on yam bean and soybeans. These were destroyed or are no longer active.

Though late season pests and adverse harvest weather conditions may still compromise the 2008 soybean crop in the upper Southeast, growers in the area remain hopeful for a big crop this year.