Just as a rising tide lifts all boats, a growing demand for ethanol has lifted both corn and soybean prices. November soybean futures have hovered around $8 per bushel as the bioenergy craze has Midwestern corn and soybeans competing against one other for acres.

Soybeans had fallen out of favor with many farmers due to low prices and poor rotation with peanuts. But like the old clothes adage — if you wait long enough, they will come back in style — soybeans are now back in style and a very viable option for 2007.

John Woodruff, University of Georgia Extension agronomist, says, “The profit potential for soybeans looks pretty good right now. There most likely will be a shortage of soybean seed this year because there was a considerable increase in small grain acreage this year, and there will be a lot of interest in planting soybeans behind small grains.”

But Woodruff warns, “Soybean seed supply is limited because we haven't grown many soybeans in recent years, and consequently, there hasn't been much seed production. If growers are interested in soybeans, I would recommend two things. First, they need to forward-contract to take advantage of the current favorable market price and also to be booking good soybean varieties now because if they wait, they probably are not going to be available.”

The best overall maturity group for south Georgia is Group VI. There are a number of excellent varieties in Maturity Group VI. Growers should check with their seed dealers and see what varieties are available and then look at the University of Georgia recommended variety list. All the varieties on the list must have above-average yields or they are taken off the list.

Maturity Group VII would be the next best option, especially if a grower is planting late after small grains. Growers can plant an early maturing Group V if they are set up to harvest early because these varieties do not maintain their seed quality after maturity. Group V soybeans will also have more severe stinkbug pressure.

The ideal time to plant soybeans is May 10 to June 10. Woodruff says, “Ideally, we like to see soybeans go in around mid-May. If a grower is double-cropping, I would encourage him to get them in as soon as possible after the small grain is out because after the first of June, for every day planting is delayed, we lose about a third of a bushel of yield.”

Soybeans aren't the low-maintenance crop they used to be. Growers need to intensely scout for pests such as three-cornered alfalfa hoppers, stinkbugs, velvetbean caterpillars and Asian soybean rust.

Also, in fields where soybeans have not been planted in the last three years, an inoculant should be applied to promote nitrogen-fixing bacteria.