By Ryan McGeeney
After any three consecutive years of soybean farming in the Mid-South, it’s going to take more than one Biblical plague to make an impression on the pros.
Speaking to more than 100 growers, consultants and other agriculture industry professionals in early January, Jeremy Ross, extension soybean agronomist for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, was duly undaunted.
“Two years ago, we had the flood, and last year we had the drought, so I’m trying to imagine which of the remaining plagues we’re going to have for 2023,” Ross said. “We’ve already had locusts and flies.”
Ross led the 2023 Tri-State Soybean Conference, an annual meeting involving soybean production experts from Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi. The conference returned to the Natural State, with Arkansas hosting the meeting in Dumas on Jan. 6.
“This past year, we had 3.18 million acres planted,” Ross said. “The rain made it hard to plant early in the season, but once it dried up, we really got going. Drought really affected us, especially the eastern part of the state, and a lot of farmers struggled, trying to push that irrigation for rice, so soybeans kind of took a back seat.
“But once we got into harvest, I think this was the quickest harvest I’ve seen in my 20-plus years,” he said.
The annual conference gives agronomists, researchers and other experts an opportunity to not only assess the recent production season, but pass on lessons learned and prognostications as well.
An eye on Brazil
Hunter Biram, extension economist for the Division of Agriculture said that if there was a single phrase to sum up the forecast for the 2023 soybean market, it might be “keep an eye on Brazil.”
Trent Roberts, extension soil fertility specialist for the Division of Agriculture, said that much of what soybean growers in Arkansas and its neighboring states battled in 2022 is known as “hidden hunger,” a term Robert uses to describe potassium deficiency in the plant, limiting production potential — and, by extension, profitability.
“When we get into the arena of fertilization practices and nutrient management, the elephant in the room is the historically high fertilizer price,” Roberts said. “Over the past 18-24 months, we’ve seen the highest potash fertilizer prices in history — and potash is typically the highest input cost for soybean production.”
But because reducing the potash input is among the worst options available to growers, Roberts said he and his fellow extension experts are hoping to give growers the best chance they can get to play whatever hand they’re dealt year to year.
Eyes in the sky, sensors on the ground
The use of drones in modern agriculture was a hot topic for several of the conference’s presenters, including both Hamilton and extension application specialist Jason Davis.
“I can fly a drone over a field that you wouldn’t want to drive through,” Hamilton said. “I can get you elevation within 1.2 inches — a tenth of a foot. Newer drones will get to within a half-inch. It’s just amazing.”
Davis said the introduction of artificial intelligence into agriculture may arrive sooner than many outside — or even inside — the industry imagine. John Deere’s See & Spray Ultimate technology, for example, will soon become commercially available after years of research and development. The technology incorporates machine learning to allow tractors with pesticide application booms to target individual weeds, rather than simply broadcast a pesticide over an entire field.
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