Better genes and soil inoculant — along with opportunity — are spurring the dawn of a major new crop for Canada's eastern prairie province, Manitoba.

Soybeans have long been established farther east, in Ontario and Quebec. Canadians there have been growing a little more than 2 million acres of the crop.

Last year, however, Manitoba growers seriously entered the soybean market, seeding 220,000 acres of soybeans. Provincial pulse crop specialist Bruce Brolley says conditions are ripe for an increase to 300,000 acres or more this year, especially if the price of nitrogen is high again.

Twenty years ago, a few Manitobans tried growing the crop but wrote it off because of low yields, protein and prices.

In 1996, a few Red River Valley growers on the Canadian border successfully seeded 800 acres. Manitoba's soybean acreage increased to 40,000 acres in 2001 and 120,000 acres in 2002.

At a single mid-winter seminar early last year, nearly 300 growers turned out to get first-hand growing advice.

Yields have been about the same as Valley growers get in North Dakota and Minnesota — about 35 bu./acre — from the same varieties, says Brolley. A few growers have seen 55-bu. yields.

One difference, Brolley notes, is that Roundup Ready soybeans in Manitoba so far have only about 15% of the total acreage.

Last year, seed supply was the limiting factor for Roundup Ready soybeans. Brolley adds that very few Roundup Ready short-season varieties have been released thus far.

Manitoba growers also have some concern about volunteer weed control if they start producing two Roundup Ready broadleaf crops — soybeans and canola — which is an unusual situation in North America. This will influence the market share for Roundup Ready soybeans, Brolley suggests.

Reasons for the sudden boom, he says, are beyond simply having new varieties that mature more quickly.

  • Today's inoculants are generally much better. They have more protein, higher numbers of bacteria and employ stickers and sterile peat to produce better nodulation.

  • Growers also are enjoying very good results with new granular inoculants at low rates. With low rates of on-seed inoculant, soybeans are getting good nodulation on the first try. The bacteria are surviving to benefit later soybean crops.

  • Red River Valley growers in Manitoba are looking for a crop that can handle excess moisture better than canola or cereal. Outside the Valley, it appeals as an alternative to flax.

  • Growers want an annual legume crop. In the Valley, it's been too wet for edible beans and peas.

  • Soybeans reduce management costs for the next crop and improve soil tilth.

  • Soybeans provide quick cash flow in the fall for those who want to ship directly to crushers.

  • Growers are planting and harvesting soybeans — mostly with conventional small grains equipment they already have on the farm. The biggest equipment shift is to a flex-head swather that gets closer to the ground and loses fewer beans per square foot.

  • Established, growing markets for soybeans attract growers. They're not worried about ‘flooding’ the market with over-production.

A seed grower himself, Don Sissons, chairman of the Manitoba Pulse Growers Association, seeded 300 acres of soybeans last year on his farm at Portage la Prairie, Manitoba.

“It's not foreign to us to be aggressive with new crop types,” Sissons says. “We are pursuing whatever it takes to make us a player in that Asian, high-value, edible soybean market.”

What's happening in Manitoba, he says, is the birth of an industry. Many elements are coming together to establish the new Manitoba soybean industry.

A small crushing facility opened this summer in the Valley, at Jordan Mill, Manitoba, to serve local livestock producers. Contacts are also being established between companies in Manitoba and buyers in the Asian market. And, research is under way on specialty, edible varieties for niche markets.

Processors wanting non-GMO soybeans either for oil, crushed meal or human food are starting to look to Manitoba as a source.

Outside the Valley, about 10 sites have trial plots or small acreages devoted to expanding production. At this point, it appears that soybeans may be a viable no-till crop raised for livestock feed across most southern growing areas in Manitoba.

Demand for livestock feed in Manitoba and Saskatchewan is steadily increasing, especially for intensive livestock facilities.

Individual dairy and hog producers in Manitoba are setting up small soybean roasting systems so they can produce their own plant protein feed source.

Brolley adds, “We're generating worldwide interest. I've had a number of inquiries from Japan and Asia interested in coming to investigate Manitoba because we've appeared out of nowhere in the market.”