Soybean prices are soaring to record levels, and farmers are excited about the prospects for 2008. Unfortunately, a shortage of seed may dampen their enthusiasm.

Jeremy Ross, soybean specialist with the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service, said it could be a “free-for-all” for farmers as they scramble to get the seed and varieties they need. He said farmers should be talking to their seed dealers and co-ops about the situation.

“I’ve heard that farmers who have already booked seed are being cut, and they’re not going to get exactly what they thought they were going to get, just because the seed is not there.”

What happened? Why is there a shortage?

Ross says hot, dry conditions in the latter part of last summer caused problems with soybean quality. This was especially true in Missouri and southern Illinois where much of the seed for the Arkansas crop is grown.

“Many seed companies have had to go back and re-allocate a lot of their soybean seed supplies, and so right now we’re looking at a shortage of seed for the 2008 planning window.

“More than likely, you’re not going to be able to get all the seed that you really want or have had in the past. Producers may have to look at some more alternatives, some seed varieties that may not be at the top of their list.”

Because of this situation, farmers need to ensure they get a viable crop the first time they plant. If they have to replant, he noted, it’s likely they won’t be able to find all the seed they want or need.

Ross recommends:

• Farmers avoid any stress on the crop, especially early in the season to try to get the best stand.

• In early to mid-April, farmers consider pushing back their planting date a little until they can get warmer, drier conditions.

• Farmers consider seed treatments, especially fungicide and insecticide treatments.

• Seed in bulk containers should be handled as little as possible to avoid cracking the seed or damaging the seed coat, which can affect germination and vigor.

• Farmers make sure their planters are calibrated and they’re using recommended seeding rates and proper seeding spaces.

Unfortunately, despite their best efforts to try to ensure a viable crop, there’s nothing farmers can do about the weather. The Extension service recommends that Arkansas farmers start planting around April 15-20.

With a shortage of seed, farmers may want to resist their urge to plant early and wait until the ground is good and warm.

e-mail: ljames@uaex.edu