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Bryant Lancaster, farm manager at Lancaster Farms, was pleased as he hopped down from the cab of a combine Friday after beginning the first harvest of soybeans.
“That’s better than we have ever picked right there, that field right there,” Lancaster said.
He estimated the yield might be as high as 45 to 50 bushels to an acre.
“Generally it’s a 20- to 25-bushel-to-the-acre field,” Lancaster said. “I selected some different varieties this year, but so far it looks good.”
Lancaster said it is “very rewarding” to know that the crop has turned out.
“That means all the work’s paid off,” Lancaster said. “All the stress and sweat. It makes you feel a lot better about it at the end of the year if you’re showing high yields.”
Lancaster Farms has 2,200 acres of soybeans in five eastern North Carolina counties, with 1,052 soybean acres in Wilson County alone.
“That’s the bulk of our acres, in Wilson County,” Lancaster said.
According to Tommy Batts, extension agent at the North Carolina Cooperative Extension office in Wilson County, some 34,000 acres of soybeans were planted in Wilson County in 2017.
“About 40 percent of the farmland acreage in Wilson County is for soybeans,” Batts said.
“It’s used as a rotation crop by a lot of tobacco farmers and a lot of growers period. It’s not the most money-making crop, but you can recoup some of that money back in that time frame,” Batts said. “It is a commodity.”
According to Lancaster, one big reason is that soybeans have a wide planting date range, from the middle of April to late July.
“Other crops we grow have got a tighter window on your planting date, corn and cotton specifically, so if we have a wet spring, fields that we planned for some of our other higher value crops, if we can’t get in the field and get them planted in that narrow window, then your next resort is soybeans. We do have a good portion that we had planned for one crop that ended up having to go into soybeans.”
The production cost for soybeans is less than some of the other crops that farmers grow.
It’s not as labor intensive,” Lancaster said.
Soybeans can’t bring in the kind of profit that tobacco does, but is still attractive to farmers.
“It’s still an important crop,” Batts said.
Growers say they rotate the crop because it has the ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen, so growers don’t have to apply nitrogen fertilizer to it.
“That’s another reason why some people rotate to it, to replenish nitrogen back into the soil,” Batts said. “Plants can only absorb one form of nitrogen, and that’s the nitrate form. Legumes, which are soybeans and peanuts, have the ability to take atmospheric nitrogen, which is not in that form, and convert it into the form the plant can absorb. We call that fixing.”
“Some people put it after wheat in the spring,” Batts said. “Some folks will put it in after a corn year because in corn you put a lot of nitrogen fertilizer out, and in order to replenish some that is taken out of the soil, you put these beans in to fill it back in.”
Farmers use the same equipment to harvest soybeans as they do both wheat and corn.
“You’ve got to change some settings with the combine itself,” Lancaster said. “The head for the wheat is the same as the head for soybeans. Corn is obviously a different style head, but with the combine, there’s just some internal changes that you have to make for that crop type that you are harvesting.”
According to Lancaster, soybeans have been “kind of a fill-in more than anything.”
“It’s pretty easy to grow. It doesn’t have very high returns, to say the least, but the simplicity of the crop makes it easier to plant. It’s easier to grow at high number of acres,” Lancaster said.
It’s so easy, the farmers tend to set it and forget it.
“I have seen it within our operation that it has been kind of put to the wayside and hasn’t been getting full, undivided attention, where it needs to be. The way the commodity prices are today, it all comes down to yield. Yield will make or break you,” Lancaster said.
Doug Pierce, manager at Lake Phelps Grain in Wilson, said soybeans make up about 25 percent of the business’s volume, between 300,000 and 500,000 bushels a year.
Farmers are just now starting to cut the fields.
The peak, Pierce said, will be around Thanksgiving.
Soybeans have a wide variety of uses.
“They are milled for feed ingredients. They are also used for products for human consumption,” Pierce said. “Soy is used in milk products, soy milk and stuff of that nature and cooking oils. They are also used as supplements in other products.”
In the last 10 years, soybeans have been used as a means of producing biodiesel as well.