Soybeans offer dairy advantage
Treasure Valley grower promotes easy, profitable crop
By CAROL RYAN DUMAS
Idaho is a leading dairy state, so it's a mystery to Treasure Valley dairyman Lorne Clapson why soybeans aren't commercially grown in the state.
Feed proteins travel more than 1,000 miles to Idaho, adding freight and delivery costs to livestock growers. It just doesn't make sense that Idaho isn't growing its own soybeans for feed, Clapson said.
"We're 100 percent protein deficit" when it comes to animal feed, he said.
Soybeans are easy to grow, require less water than corn or alfalfa and wouldn't require any different equipment than small grains or corn. And they're profitable, he said.
"They can compete with every crop here," he said.
Clapson grew 18 acres of Roundup Ready soybeans alongside his feed corn this year on his Grasslands Dairy near Kuna. Average yield was 59 bushels per acre, and Clapson will use the soybeans to feed the dairy's 900 cows.
Interest in soybeans has increased in the Treasure Valley. But it's been slow going. He only knows of six growers who raise a total of 450 acres.
Growers here will catch on, he said, adding it's not a matter of "if," it's a matter of "when."
Substantial acreage could also bring a new processing industry to Idaho.
"We farmers are missing a trick," he said.
Not everyone is missing out. Farmers in the Walla Walla Valley of Washington are growing 15,000 to 16,000 acres.
That's increased from 15 acres five years ago, said Stacy Beckman, agronomy manager for Walla Walla Farmers Co-op.
Soybeans are comparable to garbanzos and dry peas, both in profit and crop requirements, he said.
While the majority of acres are under irrigation, other costs are minimal. With Roundup Ready seed, weeds haven't been an issue for growers, and the crop doesn't need nitrogen.
"The price of soybeans has been very, very good," Beckman said.
Recent prices have been in the $10 to $11 per bushel range, but growers have not gotten less than $9 recently, he said.
Beckman said the cost of production varies. A 2009 report by Kansas State University shows irrigated soybean production in a rotation using no-till would cost $6.43 an acre and yield 55 bushels.
Jerry Stewart, of Nampa, Idaho, grows 6 acres of soybeans. His brother feeds soybeans to cows on the family dairy.
"It doesn't really go that far, but a guy could grow enough to feed all year," he said.
"There's no problem growing them; it's just like growing corn," he said.
Longtime soybean breeder Clint Shock, an Oregon State University professor and superintendent of the Malheur Experiment Station, has focused on varieties geared toward value-added markets. But he sees the potential benefit to dairymen to growing soybeans for feed.
"It might be (profitable) if he's going to grow it for feed for his own dairy and avoid transportation and middleman costs," he said. "On farm, it could be a real advantage."