Producer Profile – Patrick Fabian (PCN Winter 2013) JAN 1 2013 | Consumers and Producers | Pulse Crop News
This article appeared in the Winter 2013 issue of Pulse Crop News.
Pedigreed seed grower Patrick Fabian has gone from “playing around with soybeans on a six acre patch” to saying “soybeans will have a permanent fit on our operation” in eight short years. His successes with the emerging Alberta crop, which is classified as a pulse despite its high oil content, led to this shift from casual grower to life-long proponent.
“I was quite impressed with the potential I saw in those things for Southern Alberta,” said Patrick, who farms irrigated acres in Tilley. “I stopped growing other pulses when I found out how easy soybeans were.”
Under the right conditions, soybeans can be easier to grow than other pulses, according to Patrick. What, then, does Patrick consider the right conditions for soybeans to grow?
“Any of the irrigation districts are perfectly suited for soybean production because they’re in the south so they have the required heat units and they have the daylight sensitive variety requirements. We have no problems reaching maturity with the current varieties that we have,” said Patrick. The varieties that grow well in the Western Canadian climate are typically about 2,375 to 2,400 heat units, but because of their daylight sensitivity, they can grow in areas that are 2,200 heat units. Their daylight sensitivity shortens the time to maturity as it detects that the nights are getting longer, allowing them to grow further north and west.
And while soybeans “really shine” on irrigation because of their mid-summer water requirements, Patrick has seen them grown successfully on dryland in areas south of Taber, areas north of Strathmore, and areas east of Medicine Hat. In some cases, though, dryland producers use soybeans as a prep crop for higher value crops rather than as a cash crop that they will see a huge yield from, according to Patrick.
“They’ll plant them, and because they’re Roundup Ready, the soybeans can tolerate a much higher rate of the herbicide than other RR crops, such as canola,” said Patrick. “They can clean up any weed issues in their field, and because soybeans fix so much nitrogen, producers with this type of mindset are finding that they’re getting higher yields the following year on soybean stubble.”
One producer Patrick knows grew a quarter of soybeans and a quarter of canola. This past year, he put hard wheat on the whole half section, and he had a 14 bu/ac differential between the canola stubble and the soybean stubble. “To him, soybean yield isn’t his only focus. Obviously, he’s got to make money with these things. But he’s finding that, for his operation, they are beautifully preparing the soil for next year’s crop.”
Whether soybeans will be used as a cash crop or a prep crop, choosing the right variety is essential if a producer wants to include soybeans on his operation. Many soybean varieties have been bred for a lower pH soil, like that of eastern Canada. Because the soil profile is different between eastern and western Canada, producers should take care to select a variety that has been proven for western Canadian soil profiles.
Soil temperature is also a factor when seeding soybeans, according to Patrick. “Putting soybeans in too early can be a problem because soybeans like warm soil. We like to see it as between the 10th and the 25th of May. In a zero till situation, you’re going to have to wait a little bit longer than the guys that have worked their fields, because the soil tends to warm up five to seven days faster on black soil than it does with zero till. Usually, we tell people to make it the last thing they put in the ground.”
Once the soil temperature is right, soybeans can be seeded with various different types of seeding equipment.
“We’ve got guys that are successfully producing soybeans that are seeding them with air drills, air seeders, hoe drills, corn planters, so they’re very adaptable as to what they can be placed in the ground with,” said Patrick. “Like with any pulse, you’ve got to be careful that you’re not mashing them up when they’re going in the ground. If you have to auger them, you need to have the auger idling. It takes a little bit longer, but it’s the same thing with peas. You rev the auger up and start cracking up your soybeans, you’re going to end up having poor germination and vigor.”
And like other pulses, inoculant is “a must” with soybeans, which require approximately 300 lbs of nitrogen to produce a 50 bu crop, and as Patrick says, “No one in their right mind would fertilize that much.” With proper inoculation, soybeans will fix their own nitrogen and, in fact, fix the highest level of nitrogen of any pulse crop, after fababeans.
Soybeans share another similarity with fababeans that make them attractive to growers: standability.
“That’s where soybeans really stand out from peas, beans, and lentils – the fact that they don’t go down,” said Patrick. “They have a very, very strong stem, and they resist shattering and shelling very, very well.”
Because of their hardiness, soybeans are frost tolerant “to a point.” With an early frost, a soybean grower can expect to lose about 10 to 20 per cent of pods because the crop canopy will protect all but the top layers of leaves and pods, according to Patrick. “And generally, by about the 15th of September, 80 per cent of your yield is already set. We crack open the soybean pod and look at it, and if the membrane is detached, it doesn’t matter what kind of frost we get; its yield potential is beyond the danger point.”
Soybean harvest usually happens between the end of September to the middle of October, and like seeding, growers have some flexibility when it comes time to harvest soybeans.
“Soybeans will probably be the last thing you take off, unless you’re growing something like sunflowers or sugar beets,” said Patrick. “Go do your ticklish crops first, your high-value, high-risk crops. When you’re done all that, your soybeans will be waiting for you. They’re not going anywhere; they’re not going to shell out; they’re very hardy as far as being shatter resistant. They’re another tool for the farmer’s toolbox that gives you extreme flexibility on your harvest window.”
And the soybean market is very forgiving when it comes to things like cracking, making them easier to harvest than other pulse crops.
“With peas, you have to be so very careful that you don’t crack them. With soybeans, that’s not the case,” said Patrick, who combines his soybeans at around 4.5 miles an hour. “If you crack a soybean, that’s not dockage. You take that half a soybean that’s cracked and crack it again, it’s still not dockage. If you have lots of green seed, you might get a bit of a dockage there. The other thing that’s a dockage factor is if they’re incompletely threshed. If you have whole pods in the sample, that’s dockage. That’s why we tell the producers don’t be scared to crack them, because you’re not going to hurt the seed, but you’re going to wind up getting docked if you don’t thresh them out.”
Without a market for soybeans, though, dockage isn’t a consideration – but Patrick feels that marketing Alberta soybeans gets easier every year.
“To get things going, it was a chicken and the egg scenario,” said Patrick. At the time, he approached industry representatives about setting up a soybean processing facility in Southern Alberta and was told that, in order to do that, there would need to be around 10,000 acres of soybeans to make it viable. So Patrick approached producers about growing soybeans and was told that, in order to do that, there would need to be a place to sell them first. Despite those challenges, both soybean acres and soybean markets have slowly increased every year.
In addition to Alberta processors investing in soybeans – like one new soybean extruding facility in Nobleford – there is a significant market for soybeans in Manitoba – but with a loss of around $1.30 a bushel to freight them there, Patrick is trying to find a more viable market closer to home.
“We’re working on trying to get railcar load up and trackside loading because the majority of the soybeans that go back to Manitoba are loaded on a railcar and then railed out right past us again to the west coast,” said Patrick. “If we’re able to facilitate that, instead of having a disadvantage for freight, it might work out to being an advantage for freight because we’re that much closer and can facilitate loading them from this end.”
Patrick is also looking at ways to meet Alberta demand for soybeans that is currently being filled by Manitoba. “Right now, 99 per cent of the soybean meal and soybean products that are brought in for feed are all imported from Manitoba or the States. As time goes on, we’re trying to get traction and get that off the ground, like the company who’s got the extruding facility in Nobleford. They separate the oil from the meal, and then sell the meal locally here at a much cheaper price than what the imported stuff comes in from Manitoba, all the while meeting every quality parameter required for soybean meal.”
While soybean acreage in Alberta are currently sitting at around 1,200 acres, Patrick believes that number could grow up to 50,000 acres in Southern Alberta as producers begin to see how easy and profitable soybeans are.
“Will the acres grow? I’m assured of that,” Patrick said. “This year, we had producers breaking in excess of 60 bu/ ac, so when you’re looking at a cash cost on irrigation of about $130 to $140 an acre for your whole year’s cost, including fertility, seed, everything, with 60 bu/ac, all of a sudden, you’re starting to get producers’ attention.”
This year, Patrick saw soybeans that were priced $17 in September that dropped down to $14 last month. “As far as the economics go, if you’ve got even 50 bu/ac at $13, subtract off about $140, and that’s what you’re looking at to pay bills. When you’re doing this for the first time and figuring on your cash flow, figure it on 40 bu/ac at $10 a bushel on irrigation. I don’t want to set somebody up for false expectations, so that’s more realistic for cash-flow purposes and for seeing if they have a place in the crop rotation.”
Fit is an important consideration for growers who are thinking about growing soybeans, according to Patrick.
“You have to answer the question, ‘Will this fit your operation?’ I think it will, but you have to answer that for yourself. Because it’s something new, start small. You’re not going to put all your eggs in one basket and put out a huge outlay in case something doesn’t work out right for you. You want to get your feet wet first. As your confidence level builds, you can expand your acreage.”
And as a pedigreed soybean seed grower, Patrick does whatever he can to make sure his clients have a good experience with soybeans. “We’re committed here at Fabian Seed Farms to ensure that the producer is going to have the best agronomic advice and the best expertise that we can give them based on our trials, our research, our past experiences, both good and bad. My intent isn’t to sell soybeans so I can say I sold X amount of units of soybeans. My goal is every time a client purchases soybeans from us, I want them to have a good experience so that they’re back next year.”
By providing his clients with the best possible seed and agronomic advice, Patrick continues to grow the Alberta soybean acres and markets every year, showing his fellow growers the potential he has long seen in soybeans.
For more information about soybeans and Fabian Seed Farms, please visit www.fabianseedfarms.com. Patrick Fabian will be hosting a soybean information seminar at the grandstand meeting room at Ag Expo in Lethbridge on Thursday, February 28 from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m.