Rotation crop offers obvious advantages for some growers
By MITCH LIES
LA GRANDE, Ore. -- Grande Ronde Valley growers may have a new rotation crop.
Union County Extension agent Darrin Walenta and grower Matt Insko are testing six varieties of soybeans in research plots to determine which, if any, are suitable to the valley's short growing season.
As harvest approached earlier this week, the varieties were performing well, Walenta said.
"I think it will be beneficial from a rotation aspect and it might actually work out financially if we can get a variety that yields well," Walenta said.
Soybeans, which are widely grown in the Midwest, are nothing new in Oregon. Oregon State University Malheur Experiment Station Superintendent Clint Shock has been growing them for 25 years.
This, however, is the first year of any real production, Shock said. Growers in the Willamette Valley and the Treasure Valley increased the state's soybean acreage from a handful of experimental acres in 2009 to about 600 acres this year, Shock said.
The main limiting factor for growing soybeans in Oregon, Shock said, is cold tolerance. Varieties produced in the Midwest tend to stop filling pods when temperatures dip below freezing.
Most of Shock's work with soybeans has been focused on developing varieties that will continue pod fill in the face of a cold snap.
Growers in the Willamette Valley this year are producing about 30 of the Malheur Experiment Station varieties.
The varieties are being grown for the biodiesel market. The milled byproduct from the soybean plants is sold as livestock feed.
Insko decided to try soybeans two years ago after a transplant from Ohio asked if anyone had ever raised soybeans in La Grande.
"I said no, but I couldn't give him a reason why," Insko said.
The idea of treating fields with Roundup -- a benefit available in Roundup Ready soybeans -- appealed to Insko. And he liked the fact that soybeans add nitrogen to soil, which reduces fertility costs in the subsequent year's crop.
"It would be nice to mix in soybeans a year before going back to grass, and hopefully have a nice clean field to go into, and have the added benefit of having a nice chunk of nitrogen in there, too," Insko said.
Insko, who grows wheat, peppermint and grass seed, said grass weeds can be problematic in fields that have been in grass for upward of 50 years.
"Having a broadleaf annual that you can rotate in is valuable from a pest-management standpoint for any of your wheat or grass seed growers," Walenta said.
Walenta and Insko are looking at five different maturity ratings within the six varieties -- ratings based in part on how long it takes plants to reach maturity.
So far, the shorter-season varieties are performing best, Walenta said.
"We want as long a maturity rating as we can get," Walenta said, noting that the longer the maturity rating, the better a variety's yield potential.
Walenta and Insko believe they need to produce about 35 bushels an acre to break even -- a target they believe is well within reach.
Shock said several of the Malheur varieties yielded between 60 and 70 bushels an acre on the experiment station plots.
The biggest cost for the Roundup Ready soybeans, Insko said, is the seed. It's running around $75 and acre. He anticipates spending less than $30 an acre on pest control after that.
Walenta is unsure if soybeans can be produced under a dryland system in the Grande Ronde Valley.