Q&A

DEAR NEW FARM:

I live in northern New York State, where a soybean dryer has recently been installed, from my understanding, by a company out of Canada. My questions are: What type of equipment is needed for this type of farming, and; How many tons per acre will soybeans produce? Are there any grants or help one can receive to get started?

John Rubar
New York

 

DEAR JOHN:

We asked New York organic grain farmers Klaas and Mary-Howell Martens for their input on this one. Mary-Howell responded with these thoughts:

I'm assuming that you are either talking about the AgPro soybean expeller in Malone or the ProSoya soymilk plant in Heuvelton. Both are processing organic soybeans into food products and are looking for more New York organic soybean production.

Soybeans vary quite a lot by type in yield potential. The shorter-season varieties, which would grow best in the North Country, have a lower yield potential than longer-season types, and the feed-type soybeans (‘black hilum’) are higher yielding than the food-grade types (‘white hilum’). But generally, under good conditions, we average about 45-50 bu/acre with feed grade and 30-35 bu/acre with food grade. Soybeans weigh 60 pounds/bu.

You will need to talk to the processors to learn what varieties they most want. Probably AgPro could use any type of organic soybeans, but ProSoya may just want the food-grade types (because the black hilums can discolor soymilk and tofu). We operate a feed mill in Penn Yan and also purchase organic soybeans for feed, paying currently $15/bu.

In order to grow organic soybeans, you will need a corn planter, an early season harrow or other weeder, a cultivator and a combine. Using combines that are also used on conventional soybeans is quite risky because most of the New York conventional soy crop is Roundup Ready GMO types, and it is very difficult to clean out a combine sufficiently to prevent contamination of the organic beans. Some people do drill their soybeans with a grain drill, but unless the soil is in good condition and relatively free of weed problems, weeds can be very difficult to control in drilled soybeans.

You might want to look at our three weed control articles on the New Farm website to get more of an idea of what is involved in organic weed control.

Part 1: The basics of effective tillage techniques

Part 2: Blind cultivation

Part 3 of 3: In-row cultivation

Weeds will be your biggest problem, and you will not be able to use any herbicides, so instead you will have to control weeds with soil fertility management, crop rotation, and mechanical techniques. You may also want to look at some of our other articles on the New Farm website for a broader view of what is involved in organic row-crop production.

You will also need to become organically certified because you cannot sell any crop as "organic" unless it is "certified organic.” In New York, the certifier most crop farmers work with is NOFA-NY (http://nofany.org). Their phone number is 607-724-9851. Their deadline for 2005 certification application was March 25, but you may still be able to work something out if you call them. The other common certifier in the North Country is OCPP out of Canada (www.ocpro-certcanada.com). Please note that only fields that are three years away from last prohibited material (pesticides, synthetic fertilizer, GMOs) will qualify for organic certification. In order to complete organic certification, a trained inspector will visit your farm each year and carefully examine your fields and your records.

I don't know of any actual grants available to assist farmers converting to organic practices for the three years of transition. New York State does have a program to reimburse most of the actual organic certification costs (which run about $300 to 400 for most farms), and NRCS (www.nrcs.usda.gov) has grant programs to help cover conservation improvement projects like drainage, pasture improvement, and wetland protection, but the other costs of organic transition are generally borne by the farmer.

Hope this helps!
Mary-Howell Martens

 

Paul Hepperly, research director at The Rodale Institute, adds:

As an alternative to selling organic soybeans to a middleman, a small operation could concentrate on producing soybeans for organic tofu or other soybean products. This would make sense if your resource base in acreage is small and you had the ability to set up a small processing plant.

The logistics of tofu or soybean processing are more complicated but have greater potential returns than selling to a processor. If you were interested in this possibility, developing a good marketing and business plan would be extremely important.

In terms of organic farming, soybeans are a part of an overall rotation and should not be considered alone, as the certification process depends on a rotation and soil conservation plan. Your plant would also need to comply with organic certification standards if you decide to go a value-added route.

 

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