Jason Bean heads to HIS office at the tiny crossroads of Peach Orchard, Mo. — not even big enough to qualify as a burg or village — several miles from Holcomb, and looks across the street dead-on at a nice, modern cotton gin.
His brother, Barry, runs a cotton brokering business in the room next door. Cotton may be in the family’s bloodlines, but it gets planted on few of Bean’s acres these days.
That continues a trend begun in the 1980’s when his father, Otto, ran the business. The emphasis now: soybeans, rice, and corn.
“My father and I realized cotton was becoming profitable only on acres that need to be in cotton,” he says. “Our marginal ground needed to be in rice or soybeans.
“In the 1970s, it was possible to make a profit on 600-pound per acre cotton. No more. Some of our ground maxed out at 800 to 900 pounds per acre — we just couldn’t make more. That’s why we had to go with rice, beans and corn.”
While that land may be marginal for cotton, it produces good yields of the other crops. In 2011, he produced 68 bushel wheat and 56 bushel soybeans on double-cropped fields, proving the point.
“This year the beans won’t be close to that because of the drought; it was a struggle to get the beans germinated,” he says.
He expects to plant more double-cropped wheat/beans in 2013, and has already booked significant percentages of each at good prices.
“The way I see it, if we can produce a crop and get those prices, we’d better do that,” he says.
Double-cropping wheat and soybeans with rice in the mix helps maximize the potential of his fields.
“We turned horrible ground into great ground with rice. We have gumbo soils — it can be too wet to work on Saturday and too dry on Monday,” he says.
“We leveled the fields for rice, which helped everything tremendously. We can get 150 bushel to 180 bushel rice, versus what used to be 23 bushel to 30 bushel soybeans before leveling. Now, once we rotate back into soybeans, we can consistently grow 45 bushel to 55 bushel full season soybeans planted behind rice.”
Switching from Group V maturity soybeans to 4.5 to 4.8 varieties helped push yields, too.
“Group V varieties max out at 50 bushels per acre. With Group 4.5, we can get 70 bushels. We’re getting a yield bump with the late beans. Something that simple, proven with university research, can make a big difference,” he says.
Variety work continues to evolve, and the University of Missouri’s nearby T.E. Fisher Delta Research Center now works with flood-tolerant soybeans, with some funding by the United Soybean Board. Bean sat on USB’s production committee for nine years, the last term as chairman, until recently stepping down.
“That’s an example of specific research that benefits farmers here, and it’s something we really need on these zero grade fields,” he says.
With advances like that, he anticipates soybean yields continuing upward.
“Is there potential to get national soybean yield up to 60 bushels per acre? Definitely. The soybean plant is harder to figure out than corn — it’ll take a lot of work to do it.”
Current soybean prices provide plenty of incentive to accomplish that goal.
“As we see the potential of what soybeans can yield, combined with that price, it brings the economics factor into play,” Bean says.
“What we need is quality research, and USB and groups like that need to do a good job of managing that research. They need to make sure they’re managing more funds the right way and do the right kind of research to increase yields.”
Much of Bean’s land, thanks to being put to zero grade, can be flood irrigated, which also brings drainage benefits, though the occasional serious flood, like in 2011, can be a problem.
His typical rotation is three years of rice followed by one or two years of soybeans. On other fields, he’ll grow corn followed by wheat/soybeans double-cropped, then go back to corn.
His soybeans are mostly grown for seed and marketed through Channel. He is also a dealer for Channel soybean and corn seed.”
Corn, though it’s a favorite of Bean’s, gets fourth billing on the farm right now.
“I struggle with corn. I absolutely love to grow it, but there’s either trouble with heat during pollination or during kernel fill. It can be hard to consistently get good yields. It’s hard for us to break through the 200-bushel barrier, which I attribute to heat,” he says.
“With corn, we hope to hit, at the very top end, yields in the mid-190s. Typically, we get 160 bushels to 170 bushels on average. With soybeans, we’re averaging from the mid-50s to the mid-60s most of the time.”
Bean still grows some cotton and still is displeased with its yield in most years. He’s reluctant to make big investments in cotton and prefers to see his fields in crops used for food.
“Everybody is talking about feeding the world in the future, when there are 9 billion people on the planet 40 years from now. That’s an awful lot of people to feed. For the long-term future, that’s what worries me about cotton — clothes can be made out of other things but food is food,” he says.
“Rice is a world demand market. I’ve traveled a good bit, and there’s not a place I’ve been outside the U.S. where rice isn’t a main staple of the diet.”
Bean says the Bootheel is usually a good place to farm. Water is abundant, making irrigation fairly simple. Farmers can produce a number of crops, including watermelons and sweet corn, along with those he grows.
This is a great place to farm,” he says. “I’ve been to a lot of other places, but I wouldn’t want to farm anywhere else. This little place here is just a wide spot in the road — but it’s where I came from, and this is where I belong.”