The fourth Better Bean Series (BBS) for the 2019 season was held Feb. 19, 2019 in Peoria, Ill. The event was sponsored by the Illinois Soybean Association (ISA) and American Farmland Trust (AFT). The goal of the event was to look at the sustainability and profitability of modern soybean production for growers who adopt conservation practices.
Today’s food companies and consumers are increasingly looking for food that is nutritious, safe and produced sustainably without any lasting impact on our environment. And today’s growers are good stewards of the land and resources they manage, which sustains them and their families.
Amy Roady, Director of Communications with ISA, said “The association strives to help soybean farmers adopt sustainable practices that are profitable for the soybean producer, help protect the environment, and meet supply chain and customer needs. We are committed to collaborating with others and leveraging our resources to meet these goals. This includes helping producers use and adopt technology that can benefit their farm businesses.”
Roberta Simpson Dolbeare, ISA District 12 Director and Member of the USFRA Board of Directors, talked about the importance of stewardship and sustainability to farmers and consumers. She pointed out sustainably produced soybeans are better for the environment, following good stewardship leaves this world better for the next generation, and both are just good business. And she cited continuous improvement in sustainability by American farmers today who grow 46% more soybeans than 30 years ago, with an accompanying decrease in irrigation, soil loss and energy by 33%, 47% and 35%, respectively. She listed five avenues to address our future food systems:
- Collaboration with Farmers: Opportunity to engage with the entire food value chain
- Nourish the Global Population: Meeting nutritional needs of a diverse population
- Recognize Food as a Natural Resource: Reduce the amount of food waste
- Mitigation/Adaptation: Cognizant of natural resource constraints while improving production efficiencies
- Agriculture is a Solution for Ecosystem Services: Solve for climate-smart solutions
Kris Reynolds with American Farmland Trust reviewed conservation practices that improve sustainability in soybean production. He listed some benefits: ephemeral erosion has been cut by 50% since 2001 along with a decline in phosphate and nitrate losses from the landscape. However no-till soybean acreage declined from 50% in 2006 to 30% in 2018, resulting in more erosion (T-Value) because of bigger rain events and less soil coverage.
To manage nutrients in the environment Reynolds recommends growers adopt no-till/strip-till, cover crops and broader crop rotations with more crop diversity. He emphasized that the five principles for improving soil health are maximizing biodiversity, having living roots in the ground all year round, armoring the soil with cover (residue and cover crops), minimizing soil disturbance and adding livestock to the rotation.
Reynolds concluded by stating “A Conservation Cropping System is a suite of practices that work synergistically to replenish soil life and restore organic matter to agricultural soils. Over time these improvements increase nutrient efficiency and farm profitability, reduce sediment and nutrient losses, and make farms more resilient to extreme weather conditions.”
Dr. Gary Schnitkey reviewed the challenges of achieving profitability in 2019 after coming off 2018 with high yields, fair commodity prices and Market Facilitation Payments (MFP), particularly on soybeans that received an additional $1.65 per bushel. He said one of the things going for Illinois growers is their corn and soybean yields are running 20 and 6.5 bushels above the U.S. trendline, respectively. However, high costs and low commodity prices will put pressure on profitability in 2019.
Schnitkey is involved with a Precision Crop Management (PCM) project involving 200 farmers across 16 counties and 200,000 acres in Illinois. They looked at the economic benefit of adopting conservation practices.
- One till pass produced greater profitability than no-till or multiple tillage passes
- Strip-till was as profitable as one pass tillage
- MRTN (Maximum Return To N) was 183 lbs./A. N rates greater than 183 lbs. did not increase yield and greatest profitability was achieved at MRTN from 151 to 175 lbs.
- Cover crops and no-till did not reduce soybean yield and increased profitability
A panel discussion on viable solutions for sustainable soybean production concluded the event. Participants included Ivan Dozier, NRCS state conservationist; Kris Reynolds, agronomist, American Farmland Trust; Brian Corkill, producer, Galva in Henry County; and Andrew Reuschel, producer, Golden in Adams County.
The speaker presentations can be found below: