Back in the catbird seat of Southern crops

Imagine that a soybean is a person who upon finding himself emerging in Southern soil that had recently been cleared to make way for him, he might have heard the other crops whispering, “He’s not from around here…”

“No, I’m not,” he thought, shifting his big brown eye from field to field. As Dorothy proclaimed in the Wizard of Oz, “Toto, I’ve a feeling that we’re not in Kansas anymore.”

But what the soybean did have going for him was charisma – personal magnetism or charm – especially when his prices spiked. He immediately became the darling of early morning coffee shop conversations and the main character in tales spun by farmers who held forth on what they had booked their beans for that day.

Carroll Smith
Carroll Smith

And then the lean years arrived, and the price of soybeans dropped. But, fortunately for the soybean, the South didn’t give up on him. Farmers kept soybeans in their crop mix, dutifully rolled their combines through the field in the fall and just shook their heads at the 22 bushels an acre that they brought in at harvest time.

Meanwhile, soybean breeders worked diligently to develop varieties that were more suited to the Southern geography, and they succeeded! Yields began to rise, and farmers took notice. They began investing in more soybean inputs throughout the season to keep the plant healthy and protected from disease and insects.

Perhaps Alan Blaine, co-founder of Southern Ag Consulting in Starkville, Miss., and former soybean specialist at Mississippi State University, sums it up best on page 6, “When I first went to work for Mississippi State University in 1987, soybeans were considered a relatively low-value, secondary crop. Cotton got all the attention. Now soybeans are exciting.

“It used to be that cotton also got the best ground, the highest inputs and the most intense management,” Blaine says. “That’s not the situation today.

“All of a sudden, soybeans are being planted on phenomenal ground, and growers who are paying attention to details such as planting date, proper variety selection, disease management, fertility, drainage, etc. are getting yields they couldn’t even imagine a few years ago. I mean, who would have ever thought we would see 52-bushel soybeans?”

And, today, yields have risen far beyond that number – 75 bushels, 85 bushels and even 100+ bushels in some cases! It appears that soybeans are back in the catbird seat, enjoying a position of power or prominence on the roster of Southern crops.

Now when the young seedling emerges from the soil, he can look around and proudly say, “I might not have been born in the South, but I got here as fast as I could!” And judging by his stats in terms of acreage and yield, I think he is here to stay, y’all.

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