IP soybeans 101: Some extra attention can pay off with premiums from food-grade customers
Market premiums for identity-pre- served (IP) soybeans make them an attractive crop for many growers, but that extra profitability brings additional production considerations. Achieving good yields and quality requires different approaches to pest, pathogen and weed control, as well as extra patience.
“Some people want to grow non-GMO seeds to break up their weed control if they grow a lot of glyphosate-tolerant corn. But the number one thing is the value-added,” says Jim Barclay, crop retail manager for Hensall Co-op, an independent seed retailer and marketer based in southwestern Ontario.
"We strongly recommend a PPI or PRE application... cleaning up weed escapes in the crop prior to food grade pays huge dividends in keeping fields clean." Jim Barclay, Hensall Co-op
That additional value ranges from $3.00 to $6.00 more per bushel compared to conventional soybeans. While Barclay estimates $3.50 is closer to the average, he says good yields — often comparable to those of conventional varieties — can make IP varieties very profitable. But he says choosing the right variety involves looking at more than yield potential alone. “There are certain IP varieties that yield right in there with the best Roundup Readys, and there are some that don’t.
But varieties farmers want to grow may not be ones the end-users want to accept. That’s not always aligned, Barclay says. “You might have a 60-bushel food-grade variety, but if the protein is only 38 per cent, it’s not likely to get picked up by
too many end-users.” Agronomic considerations add another layer of complexity. For example, the selected variety needs to fit unique field conditions, such as whether soybean cyst nematode is a significant problem.
Mind the moisture
Regardless of the chosen variety, the absence of glyphosate-resistant traits means growers have to rely on other strategically applied conventional herbicides.
For Barclay, the best overall weed control strategy is to start clean and stay clean. This begins with a pre-plant incorporated (PPI) or pre-emergent (PRE) application to eliminate germinating weeds.
“We strongly recommend a PPI or PRE application. We recommend all fields are scouted for escapes 21 days after planting, and then plan post-emergent applications based on the weed spectrums present,” he says. “It’s also important to lay a foundation the year before. Cleaning up weed escapes in the crop prior to food grade pays huge dividends in keeping fields clean.”
Quality at harvest can also be trickier to maintain. Stains from weeds and dirt, while undesirable for any soybean crop, are particularly detrimental to IP soybeans. Indeed, Barclay says staining and mud-tagging are the most common reason for load rejection.
Since higher moisture accentuates these problems, Barclay says growers need to be more mindful of when — and for how long in the day — they stay in the field. That often means parking the combine when dew starts to set.
“You want to harvest them in the best conditions possible, but if you get in too early, you’re going to mud-tag your beans,” he says. “Generally, farmers will shut down and maintain quality.”
As in the production of conventional varieties, though, excessively low moisture can
also be a problem.
“We had a few stretches where we got to under 10 per cent moisture. Some people will wait for rain.
I think the new equipment and farmers are very good at adjusting in the field.”
Meeting market requirements
Hensall Co-op maintains staff dedicated to helping contracted growers navigate the additional complexities inherent in IP soybean production. Production guidelines distributed with each year’s production contract detail what crop protection products growers can safely use. This is because allowable residue levels, as well as what products are permitted in production, vary by country.
“In a perfect world all areas would be the same, but that’s not the way politics work,” Barclay says. “We have to work with that to make sure they are approved before we recommend them on our approved list.”
Food-grade soybeans are shipped worldwide for a variety of products such as tofu, soy milk and miso. Barclay says diversity in buyers, destinations and end-uses has also helped insulate the food-grade soybean market from some of the wild swings seen in other commodities.
First published in Country Guide magazine, January 5, 2021