Both Michigan and Wisconsin are looking at banner soybean yields this year, but it didn’t always look that way. The rare, unprecedented, ideal planting conditions this spring were followed by frost freezes. Hot and dry weather then put both states into drought conditions, which was followed by excessive rains in several areas.
Michigan’s soybean harvest was at 55%, which is 23% less than last year and below the five-year average of 70%, according to the USDA NASS November 1 report. The crop was rated 64% good to excellent, a drop from 71% a week earlier.
Wisconsin soybean harvest was 84% complete as of November 1, which is 6% less than last year, but 8% more than the five-year average.
The frost freeze events were the worst in southwest Michigan – in the Hartford and Decatur areas where they had temps down to 25 degrees, according to Mike Staton, senior soybean educator at Michigan State University Extension. “It produced a lot of damage, but for the most part, it didn't kill the plants outright. In just a few areas whole fields were replanted.”
Northern Indiana and southern Michigan had an outbreak of seed corn maggots in mainly early planted fields. It was about timing, as the early planted soybean emergence coincided with seed corn maggot feeding.
The flies like to lay their eggs in fields with decaying organic matter.
“It was especially bad in manured fields, weedy fields or cover crops that were worked into the soil, and were decomposing rather quickly,” Staton says. For growers incorporating those materials, MSU recommends waiting two weeks before planting soybeans. “When the soybeans germinated, the maggots were waiting to feed,” Staton says. “They’ve caused only incidental damage in the past, but they were pretty serious in southwest Michigan.
Seed treatments didn’t always work either, he added.
In the front of the season, drought was predicted for both Michigan and Wisconsin. However, most of Michigan’s growing region received excessive rains in June, which caused flooding and Phytophthora root rot.
August brought a mixed bag for Michigan. Pockets of the state got periodic rains, while areas like Allegan County and surrounding areas were very dry – going from the first week in August until the first week in September before receiving rain. “Yields in Allegan suffered because that was a critical time for setting pods and seed fill,” Staton says.
Most of Michigan is wet
For most of Michigan, it’s been a very wet growing season. It’s been said that you don’t have a great yielding crop unless you have a couple of drowned out spots. Basically, that means growers are willing to sacrifice some of their low areas to get the better producing yields in the rest of their fields.
There have been a lot of 60-plus bushel-per-acre soybeans harvested so far this year. Even with some of the hail damage we had, and with some areas being flooded, soybeans fared quite well.
For those areas dry though, moisture levels dipping to 12% at the start of harvest. "It was overly dry and brittle and some guys knocked beans out of their pods before they could get them in the combine,” Staton says. “Four beans lost per square foot equates to a bushel an acre lost.”
Warm wet conditions followed in late September and, “These conditions, after some areas were harvested, are showing what was lost in the field because there’s a lot of volunteer soybeans coming up,” Staton adds.
Farmers might want to consider harvesting soybeans with a higher moisture content when there’s suitable soil conditions, Staton advises.
Scott Wilson, who farms a little over 1,600 acres of corn, wheat, and soybeans in Yale (northwest of Port Huron) with his father, Fred, says it looked like a record-breaking year until August. “It got very hot and dry, and that’s where we lost our top yields as pods started aborting. That being said, we will still be above average yields this year.”
Wilson is a current Michigan Soybean Association Board member and is transitioning to the Michigan Soybean Committee. He has 1,000 acres of soybeans, including 400 acres of food-grade beans and is reporting a 50 bushel-per-acre yield average – five bushels better than his 10-year average.
He started harvest Sept. 18 and went at it hard for three days before being rain stalled. He finished Oct. 14. All of his 300 acres of wheat were planted by Oct. 9.
“If it weren’t for those three days in mid-September, we would still be at it the end of October,” he says.
Not being able to get soybeans out, some growers have pivoted to harvesting corn.
With the price and availability of fertilizer being a big unknown, some growers are considering deviating from rotation and planting soybeans instead of corn in 2022.
“It might be too early to predict if farmers will switch crops,” Staton says. “You also have to consider the relative corn and soybean price ratio. But right now, I don’t think there's a strong reason to alter rotation.”
As growers struggle to secure nitrogen and purchase at a reasonable price, Carpenter thinks there will be some conversion to soybeans next growing season.
Any kind of an input cost – if it hasn't doubled – is up by at least 30% to 40%. Early orders of fertilizer are being placed because there’s a real concern about availability.
Some growers are looking to food-grade soybeans as a way to capture higher-priced beans. Food grade soybeans are sometimes paying as much as $1 or $2 over Chicago's price. If you can get a contract, that premium is attractive.
While rains have plagued harvest in Michigan, Wisconsin is finishing up. Wisconsin went into the growing season with a limited amount of groundwater.
“Most farmers I talked to were pleasantly surprised at how well the soybean crop yielded on how little water they received,” says Shawn Conley, agronomy professor at the University of Wisconsin- Madison.
He noted that both white mold and Sudden Death Syndrome were light this year.
It was hot and dry early on in Wisconsin. “We had the most consecutive 90-degree-plus days in the first and second weeks of June as the 1988 record-breaking drought year,” explains Kevin Jarek, Outagamie County University of Wisconsin, Madison, extension agent. “In June I would have rated the beans D+ at best.”
Jarek is based 30 miles south and west of Green Bay. “It was followed by three inches of rain the end of June and then dry again,” he says. “That first rain at the end of June saved us.”
Areas of Wisconsin rotated between very dry and very wet. “We would have 3-to-6-inch rains, but they were spaced out several weeks apart, so the ground would get dry and crack and plants would exhibit stress between these rainfall events,” he says.
The weather, however, did help to curtail soybean aphids. White mold showed up later in the season, but overall growers were pleasantly surprised with their yields. On average, the state projection is a yield of 54 bushels an acre, according to Jarek.
Some of the early maturing soybeans went over 50 bushels per acre. He added, “We had reports as high as 70 bushels with some of those group-one beans – they got the bonus of getting a yield similar to a longer-maturing soybean group.”
Some moisture levels on early beans got down to around 10%. “There were farmers waiting for the heavy dew in the morning to hydrate those beans.” Jarek says.
As a bonus of the early harvest, growers were able to get their winter wheat acreage planted in a timely manner for the second year in a row. “That’s nice because we had a four-year span where we couldn’t plant winter wheat,” Jarek says.
Fertilizer prices have growers considering new options. “I’m hearing some growers may rotate hay acreage [not their intent] to corn, just so they don't have to pay the high prices for nutrients – which is just astounding to me,” he says. “After being completely bust on forages the last couple of years, we’ve now got growers leaving the last cutting of alfalfa in a field because their bunkers, their silos, their bags – everything is full for the first time in several years.”
Conley predicts there will be 5% to 10% more soybean acreage in 2022. Rented land where corn was grown for grain, may likely be switched to soybeans, Jarek added.