Summer soybeans add flexible line of profit

A farming family from southern NSW is honing its skills in growing soybeans to take advantage of high world soymeal prices and to insert a profitable new crop option into its rotations

The Brains stand in a field

NSW mixed farmers Ken and Wendy Brain and their daughter Amy (left), in their 2012 soybean crop, have high hopes for their 2013 crop of soybeans at Coleambally on the back of tighter worldwide supplies.

PHOTO: Nicole Baxter

Ken and Wendy Brain have high hopes for their third consecutive soybean crop since their water allocation returned to normal on their four irrigated farms near Coleambally in southern New South Wales.

When international soymeal prices hit a two-year high in August 2012, the Brains decided to expand their soybean plantings to 280 hectares in a bid to recoup some much-needed capital after drawing down their reserves during the drought.

Earlier in 2012, the family harvested 245ha of Djakal soybeans with a recently purchased John Deere 9770 STS Bullet Rotor header fitted with a 9.14-metre draper front.

The crop averaged three tonnes a hectare, with the soybeans pictured yielding slightly more than 4t/ha. The on-farm price achieved was $480/t on average, making soybeans their most valuable crop. Ken says he was extremely happy with the results because some of their land had been recently laser-levelled and two paddocks were sown late (on 30 December 2011).

Soybean establishment

With steadily rising input costs identified as their biggest farming challenge, Ken and Wendy prefer to take a low-input approach to soybean establishment.

Instead of re-establishing a series of rice contour banks that were knocked out during the drought, the Brains plant their soybeans under border-check irrigation. Under this system, laser-levelling equipment is used to create accurately sloping bays for efficient irrigation.

Their target finish date for sowing Djakal soybeans is no later than 20 December. Ideally, this enables the crop to produce a canopy before flowering and allows harvesting to be completed before wet weather arrives in May. However, because the installation of a new irrigation layout (which included extensive laser-levelling and the connection pipes and risers to replace their previous system of open channels) had not been completed as early as hoped, their soybean planting was finished on 26 December 2012.

Now, however, Ken says the 700m irrigation bays can be watered more efficiently within the ideal timeframe of seven hours, while the installation of pipes and risers has reduced evaporation losses and allowed them to pick up an extra 10ha of land for crops.

In 2012, 6.5 megalitres of water per hectare was needed to grow the Brains’ soybean crop, but Ken is hoping the new irrigation system will reduce this year’s water use to 5.5mL/ha.

To prepare for sowing, the irrigation bays are worked once and fertilised with 250 kilograms/ha of single superphosphate, before being pre-watered and then sprayed to knock down any early germinating weeds.

Ken treats the seed with a double rate of Group H inoculum before sowing to achieve a target density of 380,000 plants per hectare. Granulock 12Z® (11.3 per cent nitrogen, 17 per cent phosphorus, 4.7 per cent sulfur, 2 per cent zinc) is applied at 60kg/ha at sowing.

In 2012, an eight-row John Deere MaxEmergeTM XP precision seeder set on 900-millimetre spacings was bought after a similar machine was borrowed in 2011 and found to produce a 29 per cent improvement in soybean establishment when compared against their 8.6m tyned Horwood Bagshaw airseeder set on 178mm spacings.

After harvest this year, the land that has been under soybeans will be immediately sown to canola or wheat to make use of available nitrogen and moisture.

Double cropping is also viewed as a useful way to build organic matter in the topsoil.

Management improvements

Ken regularly attends field days to hone his skills in growing and selling his soybean crop. One management tip he recently picked up was the need to have the soil moisture profile near full when 20 per cent of soybean pods are starting to turn yellow.

Industry experts say having enough moisture for seven to 10 days to finish the crop will improve the chance of producing large, high-protein soybeans suited to the human-consumption market.

Later this year, Ken and Wendy are keen to plant the new high-yielding soybean BidgeePBR logo, developed by the Australian Soybean Breeding Program with support from the GRDC, CSIRO and the NSW Department of Primary Industries.

Long-term trials show BidgeePBR logo (which is being bulked up) yields almost 10 per cent more than Djakal and has a nine-day shorter growing time – a benefit for double-crop farming systems. Another drawcard of BidgeePBR logo is its open canopy, which Ken hopes will allow for better insect control.

More information:

Ken and Wendy Brain,
02 6954 8317,;

Luke Gaynor, NSW DPI,
0428 260 156,

For information on the 2013 Australian Summer Grains Conference, visit



GRDC Project Code CSP00104

Region South, North