Is Manitoba the new Iowa?

Moisture gives the top U.S. soybean-producing state a yield advantage, but also causes more disease problems

Soybean Field on the Edge of Small-Town Iowa.

Is Manitoba the new Iowa? That was the official theme of one Manitoba Agronomists’ Conference as professionals considered the future of soybeans in the Keystone province.

It is also the question that producers and industry officials are pondering now that soybeans in Manitoba are well over the million-acre mark.

The doubling of soybean acres in Manitoba in the past four years has drawn inevitable comparisons with Iowa, which, until recently, was the largest soybean-producing state in the United States.

The truth is, however, that Manitoba is no Iowa. While Manitoba’s 1.3 million acres of soybeans planted in 2015 are impressive, they are dwarfed by the estimated 10 million acres seeded by Iowa growers.

As for the differences in growing conditions, just ask an Iowa farmer.

John Heisdorffer planted his 44th soybean crop near Keota in southeast Iowa this year. Earlier this summer, he expected to meet his average annual yield of 48 to 50 bushels an acre.

Heisdorffer estimates average soybean yields in Iowa range from 45 to 50 bushels an acre in northern regions of the state to 50 to 60 bushels in the south.

By contrast, the 10-year average provincial yield in Manitoba is 33 bushels an acre.

Heisdorffer, 63, normally starts planting soybeans in late April or early May and harvests them in late September or early October. In a phone interview with Country Guide, he said he hardly ever has to worry about frost. “Very seldom do we ever have beans frosted off. Once in a great while, like anything else, we’ll get caught. But I don’t remember in my lifetime it ever hurting the beans.”

Heisdorffer also doesn’t need to worry about cool nights during ripening, since daytime highs during the growing season average 30 C or more.

Dry conditions are seldom a problem. According to the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, the state’s average annual precipitation is 43.35 inches, double the Manitoba average.

Admittedly, Iowa’s wetter climate can produce plant diseases not known in Manitoba. One of the big ones is sudden death syndrome, one of the most important soybean diseases in the U.S. Midwest. A fungal disease, SDS places plants in high-moisture areas at risk and causes yield losses of over 20 per cent in some fields.

For that reason, Heisdorffer, who sits on the Iowa Soybean Association, the American Soybean Association and the U.S. Soybean Export Council, thinks Manitoba may have an advantage.

“Maybe your yields aren’t quite up there but beans like dry heat. They’re more of a dryland crop. If you can get the rains in August or so, that’ll make your beans.”

Maybe. But judging by the statistics, Manitoba isn’t about to become the Iowa of the north any time soon.

This article first appeared in the October 2015 issue of the Soybean Guide

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