Pinto beans and alfalfa are much more popular legumes in the Panhandle than soybeans. However, producers like Neal Christian of Gordon have been raising soybeans profitably for the past few years. Christian raised his first soybean crop in 2000 and raised them intermittently until four years ago when he planted soybeans under center pivot irrigation. Since then, he has worked soybeans into his irrigated crop rotation, which includes corn, sunflowers, winter wheat and most recently, yellow field peas.
"With the pivot, you get water to the crop when you need it," Christian says. "Currently, there are no watering restrictions, so we are not limited on irrigation." According to Christian, soybeans work best following a corn crop, with corn following his wheat in the rotation.
Typical yields for Christian have been running in the mid- to upper-40-bushel-per-acre range, but this year he believes that he has raised his best soybean crop yet. There are so few soybeans planted in the northern Panhandle region that pests haven't been a problem. "We haven't had any major pest issues, but eventually we will deal with some pests," he says.
For Christian, getting soybeans to market involves driving his trucks 150 miles to the Farmers Coop Elevator Association at Big Springs. According to Justin Scherbarth, grain merchandiser at Big Springs, Christian travels about as far as any of their customers. They purchase soybeans from the North Platte Valley region as well, but the northern Panhandle has probably seen the most growth in soybean production in recent years, Scherbarth says.
The Big Springs Coop purchases corn, wheat, millet and sunflowers as well. But, the elevator is taking in around 60,000 bushels more soybeans now than they did five years ago, which is an increase of about 25%, he says.
"Definitely the price has been a driving point" to the increased production, Scherbarth says. "Soybeans seem to be fitting into farmers' crop rotations." He says that irrigated land or soils that are subirrigated naturally are working well for soybeans.
"Yields are a little higher this year," Scherbarth adds. Some areas experienced hail, but yields have been reported between 30 bushels per acre where hail hit to higher yields of around 70 bushels per acre. Typical yields for that region run around 50 bushels per acre, he says.
Christian has been no-tilling for the past 15 years. While he believes irrigated soybeans would produce well in his region even under conventional tillage systems, no-till is a choice best suited for his operation and philosophy. "With no-till, you don't have the wind erosion," Christian says. "I don't have to worry about my fields blowing."
Christian's no-till soybean field near Clinton was part of a Panhandle irrigated no-till tour conducted in late summer and hosted by Panhandle No-till Partnership. You can learn more about Panhandle no-till cropping systems, including soybeans, by visiting Panhandle No-till Partnership online at http://panhandlenotill.org. Or you can call UNL Extension engineer and no-till systems specialist, Paul Jasa, at 402-472-6715.