Like many other growers, Terry Slaughter added soybeans to his grain sorghum-winter wheat rotation when Roundup Ready varieties became available. The beans help clean up grassy weeds in milo, and thanks to an influx of hog production in the Texas Panhandle, they garner a 30¢/bu premium.

Slaughter farms with his father, Dean, near Perryton. They minimum-till 3,500 acres, about half of which are irrigated. Soybeans, added to the rotation four years ago, are planted in 30" rows following wheat, either as a double crop or after a fallow period.

“With the Roundup Ready beans, we can spray for control of grassy weeds,” says Slaughter. “The program does a great job of cleaning up johnsongrass and wild cane that have always hampered our grain sorghum. The beans help us get land ready to go back to sorghum.”

Group 4.6 and 4.7 varieties work best for him, yielding 50-55 bu/acre. Milo yields 6,000-7,000 lbs/acre — the same as before soybeans were introduced. Because weeds no longer steal the crop's moisture, sorghum production is more efficient. However, Slaughter does have to apply more nitrogen when sorghum follows soybeans.

Slaughter counts on the 30¢/bu premium to make soybeans work. But his bonus price doesn't involve selling soybeans directly to a local swine facility. He markets them to a processor about 200 miles away, thanks to backhaul truck shipments that deliver bean meal to a local swine feed mill.

With more than 100,000 sows in the area, Texas soybean production has doubled from about 200,000 acres in 1995 to 400,000 in 1999 and 2000. But no processing facility is online. Bean meal must be trucked in. Growers still face a low basis of close to $1 under futures.

Texas Farm, a 30,000-sow operation out of Perryton, is one of several large swine operations in the Texas and Oklahoma Panhandle areas. Premium Standard Farms, Vall, Inc., and Seaboard Farms also run huge programs in the semi-arid climate.

Before the Texas Farm feed mill opened in 1999, Slaughter stored soybeans on the farm and sold to the local elevator. But the low basis was never attractive for bean sales. The program to sell backhauled beans to the Wichita plant became an attractive marketing option.

Texas Farm buys over 20 semi loads of meal a week from oilseed facilities, including the Cargill Wichita facility. “We use about 600 tons of meal a week,” says commodity procurement manager Gary Donnell.

“Those trucks are always looking for a backhaul,” says Slaughter. “So there's no problem getting my beans shipped to Wichita for a price that's usually 30¢/bu better than I could receive here.”

Donnell says a local soybean processing facility would give growers a better value-added situation. “But right now, we have meal and other products trucked in.”

Because of high natural gas prices that could strangle irrigation efficiency this year, Slaughter hopes early spring rains can help save one or more soybean waterings. “We hope to maintain our irrigated bean production because of the benefits we see from it in our sorghum crop,” he says.