Soybeans’ bright future

Soybean price support galvanises production from coast to Tablelands


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Bruce Green, Lawrence on the lower Clarence, planted Hayman in early September only to see the leafy variety shredded by hail in mid November. Fast forward to today and the plant has recovered well.

Bruce Green, Lawrence on the lower Clarence, planted Hayman in early September only to see the leafy variety shredded by hail in mid November. Fast forward to today and the plant has recovered well.

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Better support for soybean production, from prices to agronomy, is a coming of age for this soil-friendly commodity.

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Soybean prices above $700 a tonne will galvanise production beyond this season say leading industry players.

Domestic yield, with no genetic modification, Australian soy has an appreciative market that is coming to terms with the new level of pricing, up more than $100 on the 2017 harvest.

As a result growers have taken a greater interest in this useful summer legume, which can be grown from the Burdekin to the Riverina.

The Richmond, Clarence and Tweed valleys on the Northern Rivers have been growing them for more than 40 years in rotation with sugarcane, 10 to 15 per cent of which is typically fallowed in beans to break the monoculture of cane, reduce root pathogens and build soil nitrogen levels. 

Patchy rain in these parts has been enough to continue the early summer plant of soybeans, particularly in the mid Richmond and lower Clarence. Some areas on the upper Richmond still have to wait, after minimal rain in November.

Natalie Moore and her team at the Trenayr research station near Grafton did the trial work on Hayman and Richmond varieties which the market loves.

Natalie Moore and her team at the Trenayr research station near Grafton did the trial work on Hayman and Richmond varieties which the market loves.

North Coast Oilseeds president Paul Fleming, Ellangowan, estimates 10 per cent of the summer soybean crop has already been planted in the Richmond and Clarence Valleys however most producers were waiting on rainfall to before they put seed in the ground. 

“A lot of people are getting ground ready and some are finding soil too hard and dry and are waiting for moisture to soften it. Most have got country ready and if we get a couple of inches they’ll be in a hell of a rush,” he said.

The Clarence benefited from 70-280mm last weekend while the Tweed got a fraction of that and the Richmond missed out.

The Burdekin, which has benefited from better rain, is emerging as a major supply area with the capability of producing a winter soy crop as well as another in summer.

The Riverina, once an historic catchment for the useful legume, is no longer a supplier as water allocation going forward will be used first for cotton then  rice.

On the Northern Tablelands, growers like Clint Nugent, Balaclava, Glen Innes have sown beans into good soil moisture which now require follow up rain in spite of mixed falls last weekend. Mr Nugent has planted 280ha of Cowrie variety on the back of 50mm in late November.

To his north the Darling Downs remains on a knife edge whether it plants or not after a depressing spring and zero return on cropping last summer. 

Last weekend’s rain fell in patches, a word that should be framed as a suitable description of 2018.

Ben McIntyre, grain trader, at PB Agrifoods Toowoomba, said cropping on the Darling Downs was on hold until it rained again however there was interest with producers ready to act on just 50mm. Some areas last weekend got greater than that, many other localities got way less.

“The price of soybeans this year are more than we and our customers want to pay,” he admitted.

“But if you want Australian-grown then buyers have to compete on price with sorghum and cotton.

DPI’s Nathan Ensbey says more and more graziers are including soybeans in pasture improvement programs, with growers either cultivating their ground or direct drilling soybeans into sprayed out pasture.

Lowering clouds at East Coraki, on the Mid Richmond last Monday gave a welcome sip of 10mm to  soybeans planted late November.

Lowering clouds at East Coraki, on the Mid Richmond last Monday gave a welcome sip of 10mm to soybeans planted late November.

“It is such a low cost option and returns of between $1500-$2000/ha with current pricing makes it an attractive option,” he said.

Expanding sowing window

Meanwhile, Lower Clarence producer Bruce Green is experimenting with new variety Hayman, known for its ability to grow biomass.

Last summer his son Jackson planted Hayman well outside its optimum window, placing seed in a fallow cane paddock in early September and growing it out for feed, baling the crop in early January and over sowing with winter rye.

The technique worked so well his father Bruce took a punt and did the same this season, planting the first week in September with the intention of baling his crop and following it up with a second planting for grain.

Despite cold soil temperatures and a slow start the crop looked half way there in mid November when a hailstorm stripped every leaf but left the stems.

“I was going to spray it out and start all over but Nathan Ensbey, DPI technical officer at the Grafton research station, convinced me to keep it as a “trial” – at my expense of course!”

Three weeks later and the Hayman variety recovered substantially, in spite of very little rain. 

Last weekend’s substantial falls will kick the crop along and Mr Green intends to let it go through to seed.

Keen interest in new varieties

Two new soybean varieties, Hayman and Richmond, were trialled at DPI’s Grafton research station, Trenayre, where Nathan Ensbey, technical officer, says demand for that seed has been strong in the lead up to summer sowing.

“Excellent prices and a better agronomic understanding of our new varieties will see plantings of soybeans increase on the North Coast,” he said.

“We have brought the recommended planting window for Richmond forward into November. 

Due to the dry finish to spring Richmond plantings may be down a little and we will see an increased sowing of Hayman which can be planted for grain from mid-December into February in Northern NSW.”

Both Richmond and Hayman handle powdery mildew and pre-harvest weathering better than the old varieties, are less prone to lodging and have clean leaf drop making them easier to harvest. 

Most importantly end users, like tofu and soy-milk manufacturers, like the consistently high protein levels and manufacturing traits.

“Hayman is such a versatile variety. You can plant it in early spring as a fodder/silage crop or as a grain crop in summer or both if the weather is your side. 

“It is being planted in mid-January as a grain crop following short season corn silage crops in beef and dairy enterprises.”

Most importantly end users, like tofu and soy-milk manufacturers, like the consistently high protein levels and manufacturing traits.

Ross Larssen, Mara Global Foods, is helping top underpin an emerging optimism among producers of soybeans.

Ross Larssen, Mara Global Foods, is helping top underpin an emerging optimism among producers of soybeans.

​Light hours dictate Soybean’s summer growing window and yield potential but producers will tweak sowing dates by weeks if they think they can get rain around flowering. 

The last two summers have been cruel to crops planted in early December with high temperatures well into February. Later planted crops fared better after decisive rains came just before March.

Ross Larsson, Mara Global Foods, at Shannonbrook and Mallanganee via Casino, has invested heavily in the future of soybeans and its value as a processed product so was pleased to see keen interest in this year’s production. 

“Based on seed sold I would estimate soybean production here on the coast could be up by 30 to 40 per cent,” Mr Larsson said.

Mr Larsson is banking on soy ingredient consumption to steadily climb, as it is already a key ingredient in baked goods, from donuts to Turkish bread.

“Whether we can supply 30 tonnes or 50t, the demand for our product is the same,” he said. 

“We want to see growers rewarded for that. We want to establish certainty of supply. At the same time we want to guarantee our buyers that they will get the same quality.”

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