Soybean acreage across the upper Southeast is likely to have a modest increase in the 2009 season as farmers continue to try and figure out the fine balance between production costs and expected commodity prices for the upcoming growing season.

In North Carolina, the largest soybean producing state in the Southeast, growers battled drought conditions much of last year, but still harvested a record crop.

“The 2008 North Carolina soybean crop was the highest production on record, according to UDSA NASS statistics, at more than 55 million bushels and surpassed the old mark of 52.5 million bushels achieved in 1982,” says Charles Hall, executive director of the North Carolina Soybean Growers Association.

“The 2008 crop was also a benchmark year for production dollar-wise, because we saw the value of soybean production exceed $500 million. We averaged 33 bushels to the acre — near the record state average yield of 34 bushels per acre set in 2004,” Hall says.

“Quality-wise, both our protein and oil content were 0.8 percent better than the national average in 2008, and that means more value for our customers. We really do have a top quality soybean produced on our farms in North Carolina,” he adds.

“We did see some lack of moisture in 2008 just like in 2007, but that was certainly much more damaging to corn. I’m told that statistically the odds of back-to-back weather patterns like that were very small, and that it would be even less likely for 2009 to look like 2007, when we only yielded 22 bushels per acre.”

North Carolina is typically a good barometer for the upper Southeast and the 2008 crop, when combined with uncertainties in production inputs for other crops points to more soybeans across the region. In 2008, North Carolina produced 1.66 million acres of soybeans and production was up 75 percent from 2007.

Individual farmers reflect the overall quality of the 2008 crop, Hall notes. The 2008 yield award winner, Barrett Flowe of Cabarrus County, produced 78.7 bushels per acre. Second place winner was the farm partnership of Charles Gray & Sons of Pasquotank County with a yield of 75.6 bushels per acre and third place winner was Darren Hubers of Hyde County with a yield of 73.4 bushels

All the individual and combined state grower successes will likely bode well for soybeans in 2009 in North Carolina and much of the Southeast. On a global basis, several factors likewise point to an increase in soybean acreage.

Tight global soybean stocks, which are expected down 22 percent this year, should encourage U.S. exports through next fall and winter. A continued weak dollar also supports soybean exports.

Drought conditions in Argentina and Uruguay in particular, and throughout the Southern Hemisphere in general, indicate a slightly smaller soybean crop than originally forecast. In Argentina, for example, late January forecasts called for a two percent drop in harvest over fall predictions.

With carryover down to 4-5 million tons there is little speculation that soybean prices will drop — at least not for the 2009 crop. In fact, with carry-over down, there is little cushion against a U.S. production shortfall or foreign supply shocks that could push prices higher.

Soybean growers across the Southeast will have some good varieties to work with in 2009. With planting decisions being made later in 2009 than in any recent planting year, the flexibility of having good early-, mid- and late-season beans is a big plus for growers across the region.

In North Carolina, top producing varieties over the past three years include:

Maturity Group Late V:

• Terral TV59R16: 48.4 bushels per acre.

• USG Allen: 48.1 bushels per acre.

• Asgrow AG5605: 46.1 bushels per acre.

• Deltapine DP5914RR: 45.6 bushels per acre.

Maturity Group VI:

• USG 620nRR: 49.6 bushels per acre.

• Asgrow AG6301: 47.5 bushels per acre.

• Southern States SSRT6202N: 47.2 bushels per acre.

• DynaGro 36T60RR: 46.3 bushels per acre.

• Deltapine DP6568RR: 46.3 bushels per acre.

Maturity Group VII and VIII:

• USG 7732nRR: 46.8 bushels per acre.

• Deltapine DP7220RR: 44.3 bushels per acre.

• Asgrow AG7601: 44.3 bushels per acre.

• DynaGro 35K73: 44.2 bushels per acre.

• Deltapine DP7330RR: 44.2 bushels per acre.

In South Carolina, soybean production over the past 20 years has been consistently around 500,000 acres. In 2008, growers in the Palmetto state harvested 540,000 acres and produced slightly less than three billion bushels.

Though interest remains in South Carolina in producing Maturity Group IV beans, research at Clemson’s Edisto Research and Education Center indicate yields were doubled by using Maturity Group V and up beans.

The top producing Maturity Group IV bean was Dyna-GroV47N8RR, previously sold as Vigoro 47N8RR, with only 33.3 bushels per acre. The top three producing Maturity Group IV beans averaged only 26 bushels per acre.

The top producing Maturity Group V and VI soybeans were Asgrow AG6307 and Dyna-Gro V622N9RR, both of which topped 60 bushels per acre. The average of the top varieties in Maturity Groups V and VI topped 58 bushels per acre.

Maturity Group VI and VII beans also produced well in the South Carolina tests. Asgrow AG7501, Dyna-GroV76N9RR, and Deltapine DP7330 all topped 60 bushels per acre, and average yield of the top varieties also topped 58 bushels per acre.

In Kentucky statewide testing showed outstanding varieties in Maturity Groups II-V, with high yielding, high quality varieties in each group. Among the top performers in Group II and III were Seed Consultants SCS 9398RR, with 47.7 bushels per acre and Armor ARX938 with 47.6 bushels per acre. Nine varieties in this group produced more than 42 bushels per acre.

In Maturity Group IV, 14 varieties topped 45 bushels per acre. Top performing varieties included Southern Cross Benjamin (48 bushels per acre), Carverndale CF 422RR/STSn (49.4 bushels per acre) and Asgrow AG4303 (47.5 bushels per acre).

Compared to other cropping options, especially peanuts and cotton, upper Southeast growers may take a favorable look at soybeans in 2009.

Among the factors in favor of a soybean acreage increase are: Delays in peanut growers getting contracts, continued low prices of cotton, higher production costs and lack of irrigation to insure high corn yields, and the across-the-board delay in planning and planting crops due to market uncertainties.

e-mail: rroberson@farmpress.com