The ILSoyAdvisor is a website focused on soybean management with content provided by experts. While it is focused on Illinois, its reach is global and we have readers from around the globe. And they often ask specific questions about production and how to make it work for them. I have posted a few blogs addressing their questions. In December I got two questions from commercial farmers in Nigeria and Afghanistan asking about the feasibility of growing commercial soybeans and asking for some advice.
Dispensing advice is easy if it means answering some basic agronomy questions. But determining whether to grow soybeans is a more fundamental question. Is the weather suitable, is there a market for it, do they understand the end products, can they buy seed of adapted varieties? These are fundamental questions.
So, in response to these two emails, I sent a list of questions to determine the feasbility of growing soybeans commercially and profitably. Hopefully they can answer these questions, provide some feedback and then I can dispense some advice. Or, after reviewing the questions and thinking through their answers, they’ll decide it isn’t feasible to grow soybeans in their area. That in itself is advice.
Some of these questions may seem obvious to producers and agronomists in the U.S. who take a lot of this for granted. But if you want to produce soybeans for the first time in a country or region these are important questions and can determine the difference between success and failure.
Basic Resources – Can you fundamentally grow soybeans?
Capital – Do farmers have access to capital to implement modern and profitable production practices? Or will production be classified as small-holder, low-input, labor intensive and low-yielding?
Economics – Can you produce and market soybeans more cheaply than you can buy them on the global market from the Argentina, Brazil or the U.S. (these three countries are already low cost producers)?
Environment – What is the environment and weather like—latitude and elevation, growing season (what months of the year). Is there a distinct wet and dry season, daily high temperature during the growing season, rainfall during the growing season, humidity during the growing season?
Irrigation – Is it available and do crops depend on it?
Market – Who will buy the soybeans, can they be crushed and the oil extracted and can the meal be separated out? How will the oil and meal be used?
Mechanization – Will this be commercial production? Do you have a suitable planter, sprayer or combine?
Soils – What is the soil type, texture, depth and is a soil test/analysis available?
Agronomy Resources – What factors limit production and what decisions optimize yield?
Varieties – Is commercial soybean seed available, who sells seed, who develops the varieties, does the government have a soybean breeding program, do varieties have the right maturity group rating for that environment and daylength so plants will flower (this based on latitude and daylength)?
Soils – What is the pH—if acidic and the soil needs lime, what are the P and K fertility levels—they need to be in the moderate range or supplemented with commercial fertilizer or animal manures. Is lime and commercial fertilizer available and what is the fertilizer analysis?
Tillage – Will this be done and how or will you try no-till? No-tilling introduces another set of management decisions.
Planting – What is the date, depth, soil conditions at planting, and population per hectare (375,000 to 500,000 seeds per ha)?
Seed treatments – Commercial producers in the West treat seed with fungicides and insecticides to protect the seed and seedling against disease and insects during germination and emergence—this results in a better and healthier stand. These products may not be available or affordable in some countries. And they aren’t necessary to get started. Soybeans are a legume and the seed needs to be treated with a Rhizobium inoculum so it can fix its own nitrogen—is this inoculum available in-country? (This step isn’t necessary but if you don’t inoculate, you should add nitrogen fertilizer to produce a commercial yield.)
Weed control – How will this be done, by tillage or hand-weeding, and do you have access to herbicides that can be applied on soybeans to control the weeds that infest your fields? Realize that there are generally fewer herbicides available for soybeans compared to maize (corn).
Insects – What insects are present that feed on soybeans and will they be a threat? Insect pressure is likely to build the longer you grow soybeans—insects that like to feed on them will appear. Insecticides can do the job but are they available and affordable in-country?
Diseases – There are number of diseases that can impact soybeans—their presence and ability to infect plants depends on the environment and presence of the pathogen. Disease pressure will probably be low at first, but the threat and pressure will likely grow over time. Fungicides can work to control fungal diseases but not bacterial diseases, and they available and affordable in-country.
Harvesting – Soybeans need to be harvested in a very timely manner at 13 – 14 percent moisture. They can easily dry down during the day to 9 or 10 percent, pods will shatter and seed will be lost. Combines need the speed to thresh soybeans while removing pods and trash but not cracking seed. They need a ready market because they will be hard to store for long in warm environments. Are storage facilities or bins with aeration available for short term storage?
Agronomist Daniel Davidson, Ph.D. posts blogs on agronomy-related topics. Feel free to contact him at email@example.com or ring him at 402-649-5919.