FARMER FOCUS: Lack of rain hits soya bean hopes

This year, we have only had 360mm of rain, 540mm below the annual average of 900 mm. So to get back to “the average”, we would need 270mm of rain per month in November and December. It is highly unlikely

Medium to long-term forecasts are unclear and from now, we will begin to play the biggest field lottery game of soya bean planting. So far, I have been lucky, in that I didn’t grow winter wheat.

Neighboring growers are now watching their crops flower with severe water stress. It has been the risk with maize, and the optimal planting window has passed with either crops not been planted, or emerging poorly due to a lack of rain.

I will take a cautious approach when buying inputs and selecting which soya bean varieties to grow. Once we have a significant rain, it will be essential to assess the presence of difficult-to-control weeds, such as flax-leaf fleabane (Conyza bonariensis).

Once in the soya bean crop, it is very difficult to eradicate. So, we can’t rush into soya bean drilling when the rain comes, as weeds must be controlled beforehand. Roundup Ready Soya is not much help, as even glyphosate struggles to control this weed.

Break-even yields necessary to cover costs in soya beans are higher than last season – both on my owned and rented fields. It would require a bumper crop to cover the costs and beat the tight margins of the last three or four seasons, which were marked by high costs, increased export taxes and climate problems.

The lack of interest (due to tight margins) means there are still areas that have not closed lease arrangements for the 2013-14 cropping season.

Negotiations are longer, and in many areas each day of delay reduces the farmer’s ability to pay due to the increased costs of late planting.

Perhaps an alternative solution is to share risk between the owner and farmer by sharing a proportion of the output. This is the approach taken in the US and also used to be the arrangement here before the move to fixed rental values.

Federico Rolle farms 2,250ha of rented arable land in the Pampa area of Argentina. He grows soya beans, sorghum, maize and wheat using no-till techniques and GM crops. He has a part-time role helping Brown & Co in the region

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