The drought-stricken soybeans this fall are prompting varying strategies on what to do with them in Marion County as well as across much of the United States.
The shortage of beans has prompted prices in the $17 per bushel range, causing farmers to think in terms of harvesting their fields, even for small yields.
Others, such as a young farmer at Cooperative Grain & Supply in Hillsboro last week, are seeking guidance on whether to cut beans as hay to feed cattle.
Listening to farmers at the Kansas State Fair in Hutchinson last week, there was favor for a third option of just planting wheat over the ruined crop since recent rains were insufficient for setting new beans.
These farmers said their best benefits are the beans’ nitrogen-fixing capabilities along with creating some residue for soil gain.
Randy Vogel, who farms north of Marion, said some of the beans filling pods would benefit in size for harvesting if the area could receive about 1.5 inches of rain “really soon.”
Vogel added that even if it’s too late for the beans, he needs a significant rain soon for wheat planting. He has already cut his poorer beans for hay to use over what may be a hay-short winter.
One Topeka-area farmer at the fair said there was no way he would risk feeding soybean hay to his cattle because of possible toxic herbicide retention.
There is some truth in that perspective, according to Rickey Roberts, Marion County extension agent. Roberts said herbicide retention could makes many beans here unacceptable risks for feeding livestock due to the toxicity.
Extension services in Kansas and multiple other states list Roundup, or a generic substitute for it, safe for livestock forage after 14 days from application—well within the practical application range in this area.
But other herbicides used in combination with Roundup or independently may vary in the time required to withhold the feed, or they may be unsafe for forage use at all.
Some experts have expressed concern that dissipation rates for some herbicides may have slowed because of lack of rainfall.
If a farmer does determine to cut beans as hay, the extension service has advice on what kind of green leaf cover the beans need to have to maintain a sought-after crude protein range of around 18 percent with total digestible nutrients of more than 50 percent for cattle.
Beans with too many dropped or yellow leaves may not be worthwhile for hay.
The extension service also advises use of a crimper to crush coarse stems, and to take extra care in drying to prevent mildew in green or high-moisture pods.
Of course, values and considerations change for late beans that are no-till planted into wheat straw, extension scientists note.
They also warn that farmers should not expect to keep big round soybean bales outside like other hays because the large stems increase water porosity in bales.
A farmer also should check with his crop insurer before haying or destroying beans to assess coverage.
Vogel said he needs to wait for his crop insurer before cutting some beans. He expects to cut lower-yield beans, perhaps in the five bushels an acre range, because on land he leases, where the landowner takes a share, he needs to harvest a crop to secure the rental right in the future.
Since he will already be going to the expense of running the combine, Vogel said he will be cutting both marginal and better fields on his own land, too.
“We’ll still have a lot of ground with 10-plus bushels an acre, especially on the bottoms,” he said.
As for estimating yields in advance, Vogel said he has beans that will average three beans a pod, but in the end it’s always difficult to know how yields will coincide with estimates.
None of this means that farmer did anything wrong or made incorrect decisions, Roberts said.
“It just means mother nature didn’t cooperate in giving us the rain when we needed it,” he said.
Roberts said that, by extension guidelines, putting a combine into the field to cut beans is an expense usually not justified for yields under 15 bushels to the acre, and for sure at least 10—even though that may be marginal.
Roberts said he realizes some farmers may be tempted to cut yields less than that at current prices, even though it may be a mistake.
Farmers may want extension office help in taking samples to determine probable yields.
Roberts said this is an unusual circumstance for drought to reduce bean yields this much two years in a row.
Based simply on the odds, he hopes next year will be better.