Southeast soybean seed supply short, valuable for 2008 plantings

Soybeans, once considered ‘superbean’ in the Southeast, may be making the first step in a big comeback in 2008 — if seed supplies and quality hold up.

It seems all the cards are stacked in favor of a big soybean crop in 2008. Nitrogen costs have risen another 20-30 percent over 2007, generating more interest in low-demanding nitrogen crops like soybeans.

Soybean prices continue to increase, with November 2008 futures reaching $14 per bushel. With soy stocks at a near record low, price stability is a good bet well into 2009, according to some analysts.

The reality of the 2007 corn crop is another factor in increased interest in soybeans. Many growers who invested heavily in corn to take advantage of high prices learned the hard way that drought and marginal land don't equate to high corn yields or profit. As a result many of those acres are going back into cotton, or soybeans.

An estimated increase in wheat acreage in the Southeast of 20 percent to 25 percent also opens more acreage up to double-crop beans. Weather at spring wheat harvest and soybean planting will play a factor, but indications are many growers will reduce their risk on wheat by double-cropping with beans.

All this, plus a questionable supply of the most desirable soybean seed and some drought-related quality issues from last year's seed crop leave some serious questions for soybean growers in the Southeast.

In Virginia, State Soybean Specialist David Holshouser says, “like everywhere else in the Southeast, seed supply is short.” Holshouser says growers who make a late decision to plant beans behind wheat may have a difficult time getting the variety they want and need for their particular growing conditions.

The other big concern for Carolina-Virginia soybean growers is finding seed should they need to replant beans due to early season cold weather or disease problems. “There just won't be many seed for replanting, and I think our growers have heard me say this enough they will be careful to wait for the right conditions to plant,” Holshouser says.

If growers have to plant early, Holshouser says they should seriously consider using a fungicide to protect the investment they've made in soybean seed. And, they should be careful in calibrating the seeder to be sure seeds are sown at the correct depth.

Nationwide, analysts now predict the 8 million acres or so of soybeans taken out of production last year will be put back into soybeans this summer. In the Southeast, projections are for a small increase in acreage. However, that could change if weather is favorable and double-crop options remain good and soybean prices remain strong.

In the Southeast there are a lot of problems because of a tight seed supply of some key varieties. Weather in the Southest was very hot and windy during the last part of the soybean growing season and in some cases that caused reductions in seed quality. It seems to be maturity Group III or later that are the biggest problem.

In some varieties most severely impacted by the drought, growers may find several varieties sold at 85 percent germination and some may be marketed as low as 80 percent germination.

Poor germination is generally blamed on a thin seed coat, which leaves the seed more vulnerable to damage during harvest, transportation, cleaning and bagging. Poor seed germination can be negatively affected by treating the seed with fungicides or insecticides, due primarily to the mechanical affect of treatment. Growers should carefully weigh the potential costs and benefits of treating varieties that have low germination rates.

Smaller seed size may also be a result of drought, but smaller seed are not necessarily a bigger risk.

For the 2008 growing season, Pioneer Hi-Bred will offer a new system to help growers target their soybean product selections based on high-yielding genetics and traits to maximize their profit potential — not seed count.

The Pioneer Soybean Seed Size Value Guarantee minimizes seed size cost variations per acre by using a price adjustment starting at 2,800 seeds per pound across all varieties and lot numbers.

Small and large seeds of the same variety have the same genetic material and consequently the same yield potential. Large seeds can usually be planted deeper because they have a larger reserved of energy.

Holshouser warns that when planting smaller soybean seed, it is important to adjust the seeding rate to reflect the seed size. In 2008, planting depth will be a critical issue for soybean growers, because of the scarcity and cost of the seed — they have a bigger risk to get planting right. The optimum seeding depth for small soybean seed is 1 to 1.5 inches.

Though the 2007 drought had a serious impact on soybean seed supplies, there is still reason for optimism for the 2008 crop. Syngenta's Gene Kassmeyer, who is head of soybean marketing, says his company's ability to produce seed across a wide geographic area minimizes the effect of drought or other negative climatic conditions in any one region of the country.

“We're filling custom orders with the varieties, treatments and packaging that the grower requests,” Kassmeyer says. “The upgrades we've made in the past few years help us more efficiently process the crop and make sure our customers get the high-quality soybean seed that they need.”

In the Carolinas and Virginia, less seed has proven to be better, even in years when seed supplies are abundant. Long-term research by North Carolina State Soybean Specialist Jim Dunphy demonstrated in on-farm tests from 2001 to 2006 that lowering soybean seeding rates did not negatively impact yields — and sometimes actually increased. With short seed supply inevitable in 2008, this may be a good year to put Dunphy's research to the test. He says, “growers tend to use higher seeding rates as insurance so they will end up being able to harvest a viable crop.” He adds, “farmers were buying more insurance than they needed.”

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