Soybeans present options
Dairies currently haul soybean meal from Midwest
By SEAN ELLIS
With research conducted by Oregon State University and University of Idaho confirming soybeans can be grown profitably in Idaho and Oregon under the right conditions, Idaho dairyman Lorne Clapson believes a lot more farmers in the area should be growing the crop for the dairy and beef cattle industries.
"In areas where it's warm enough to grow corn, it's warm enough to grow soybeans," said Steve Norberg, regional forage specialist with Washington State University.
Norberg conducted research on growing soybeans for grain in the Pacific Northwest for three years at OSU before recently moving to WSU, where he is focusing more on growing soybeans as forage.
With more than 500,000 milking cows, Idaho is the nation's No. 3 dairy state and there's no reason dairies should be bringing in all their soybean meal from the Midwest, Clapson said.
The same equipment used for growing wheat or corn can be used to grow soybeans, Clapson said, and Idaho grows more than 1 million acres of wheat and 390,000 acres of corn.
"What intrigues me is why these same dairymen who are growing acres and acres of corn aren't starting to grow soybeans," he said.
Clapson said Idaho is a huge protein-deficit state and is importing large amounts of feed proteins that have at least a thousand miles of freight costs added.
"These large dairymen should be going out to independent farmers and saying, 'I'll buy your soybeans for such and such a price," Clapson said. He grew 20 acres of soybeans in 2010 and 2011 on his dairy near Kuna in southwest Idaho and averaged about 60 bushels per acre.
Despite efforts by Clapson, Norberg and others to convince more farmers in Idaho and Oregon to at least try growing soybeans, only several hundred acres of soybeans are currently grown in each state.
One of the biggest challenges has been proving high enough yields can be achieved here to make soybeans profitable and competitive with other crops.
Research conducted by OSU and UI has resulted in yields as high as 80 bushels per acre but also as low as 40. To be profitable, Norberg said, yields need to be in the 55- to 65-bushel range because soybeans don't make economic sense in the 45-bushel range.
"Yields make a big difference in the economics of it," he said. "We need to get those yields up (consistently) into the 55-bushel range."
While soybeans can be fed to cattle whole, they don't have the same nutritional value as soybeans that have been crushed and turned into soybean meal. That requires a multimillion-dollar crushing facility.
Getting a crusher in Idaho's Magic Valley area, where the state's dairy industry is centered, would be one of the factors that could help spur a soybean industry in this region, Norberg said.
Soybeans wouldn't be a huge moneymaker in this region but "it's another option that I think more farmers should look at," he said.
More information on growing soybeans in the Pacific Northwest can be found online by searching for, "Growing irrigated soybeans in the Pacific Northwest."