Will 2023 be “feast or famine” for Midsouth soybean growers?
After any three consecutive years of soybean farming in the Mid-South, it’s going to take more than one Biblical plague to make an impression on the pros.

Speaking to more than 100 growers, consultants and other agriculture industry professionals in early January, Dr. Jeremy Ross, extension soybean agronomist for the University of Arkansas remained hopeful. “Two years ago, we had the flood, and last year we had the drought, so I’m trying to imagine which of the remaining plagues we’re going to have for 2023,” Ross said. “We’ve already had locusts and flies.”

 Ross led the 2023 Tri-State Soybean Conference on January 6, an annual meeting involving soybean production experts from Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi.

 “This past year, we had 3.18 million acres planted,” Ross said. “The rain made it hard to plant early in the season, but once it dried up, we really got going. Drought really affected us, especially the eastern part of the state, and a lot of farmers struggled, trying to push that irrigation for rice, so soybeans kind of took a back seat.

 “But once we got into harvest, I think this was the quickest harvest I’ve seen in my 20-plus years,” he said.

 Hunter Biram, extension economist for the Division of Agriculture said that if there was a single phrase to sum up the forecast for the 2023 soybean market, it might be “keep an eye on Brazil.”

 While drought has affected key soybean-growing regions in the South American country, Brazilian growers are still on track for a record year, he said.

 “As long as there is a little bit of rain Brazil will have that record yield everyone is talking about. A little bit of rain is going to go a long way for them.”

 Brazil is the world’s leading soybean exporter, with 53 percent of the market. The United States is second, with a 35 percent share.

 “They’re well over 100 million acres harvested now, and their harvest continues to go up every single year,” he said. “If they do have that record year, I believe global soybean stocks will be up, which will then depress the global soybean price, and we’ll start to feel that at home, too. We always hover around that futures price. It’s a good reference for local prices, too.”

 Biram said that behind Brazil, the second leading factor likely to affect U.S. soybean growers are the bevy of production risks, from insect pressure to climate curveballs.

 “Last year, we had a quiet hurricane year,” he said. “I’m not a meteorologist, I’m not about to predict that hurricanes are about to happen, but it’s a production risk we face, here in the Delta.

 Being that last year was quiet, my gut tells me we need to be prepared for something. It just takes one hurricane to wipe out a crop.”

 Finally, Biram said the third factor in play is a potential new U.S. Farm Bill. Although the federal Farm Bill is ostensibly renegotiated every five years, it has rarely held to that schedule.

 “Let’s say we do actually get a bill — the No. 1 thing I’m concerned about is base acre reallocation. Base acres are different from planted acres — base acres are acres that receive program payments,” such as those provided by Agricultural Risk Coverage or Price Loss Coverage.

 “We do a lot of ARC and PLC in Arkansas — we have a lot of base acres — so there’s a lot of potential support that may be lost for the farmers right now, who are facing tough conditions,” Biram said.

 Dr. Trent Roberts, extension soil fertility specialist for the Division of Agriculture, said that much of what soybean growers in Arkansas and its neighboring states battled in 2022 is known as “hidden hunger,” a term Robert uses to describe potassium deficiency in the plant, limiting production potential — and, by extension, profitability.

 “When we get into the arena of fertilization practices and nutrient management, the elephant in the room is the historically high fertilizer price,” Roberts said. “Over the past 18-24 months, we’ve seen the highest potash fertilizer prices in history — and potash is typically the highest input cost for soybean production.”

 But because reducing the potash input is among the worst options available to growers, Roberts said he and his fellow extension experts are hoping to give growers the best chance they can get to play whatever hand they’re dealt year to year.

 “With potash being our largest input cost, we’re trying to give producers as much info as we can to effectively manage that input.”

 That includes a potash rate calculator, designed to give growers a profit-maximizing K fertilization rate, and new tissue sampling techniques meant to be employed mid-season.

 “It allows farmers to identify whether or not their fertilization program is adequate, or would benefit from additional fertilizer,” he said.

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