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Soya Beans as an alternative crop

Glycine max, more commonly known as soybean or soya bean, is a legume species that is native to East Asia. It is known for its use in both human and animal food production. The crop is considered one of the five oldest cultivated crops and was utilised by the Chinese as a source of food before 2500 BC. However, it was only discovered by the western world as a source of oil and protein in the 19th century. The first report of soya beans in South Africa is believed to be in the Cedara Memoirs of 1903. Internationally it has caught a lot of attention for its high protein per hectare content as well as for the soil health benefits that it has. But what does this mean to you, the South African farmer? Should it be a crop you are considering this coming season?

Soya beans, like most legumes, are cultivated in areas that have an optimal summer temperature of between 20 - 30℃. They can grow in a wide range of soils but flourish in moist rich soils with good organic content. They can be grown in both temperate and tropical regions. 80% of the worlds soya bean production comes from the United States, Brazil and Argentina. South Africa, with its similar climatic conditions and latitude to both Brazil and Argentina, is a perfect growth haven for this highly sought after crop. Some of the highest performing varieties locally have come out of Brazil such as Capstone Seeds’ Glyphosate tolerant soya bean variety - Fundacep 65RR. Fundacep 65RR is a 5.9 maturity soya bean, which makes it widely adapted and suitable for most regions in South Africa.

With intensive maize farming done in South Africa, soya beans provide the perfect opportunity to make money while putting Nitrogen back into the ground by using soya beans as a rotation crop. Not only do soya beans have a much lower cost per hectare when compared to maize, but they also perform nitrogen fixation by establishing a symbiotic relationship with the bacterium Bradyrhizobium japonicum. The bacteria fix nitrogen after becoming established inside the root nodules of the legumes. The nitrogen is taken from the earth’s atmosphere and converted into ammonia (NH3) or other molecules that can then be accessed by plant organisms.

South Africa has recently made significant investments in the domestic soya bean crushing capacity. These investments have led to a crushing capacity of approximately 2,2 million tons and above. This investment was aimed at stimulating the domestic soya bean production and has worked. The soya bean production in South Africa reached 1 million tons in the 2015/2016 marketing season. There is still vast room for growth however as the total soya bean productions are only a third of the country’s crushing capability. According to GrainSA, South Africa’s soya bean oilcake requirements for the 2015/2016 year were 1,5 million tons, 55% of which had to be imported. The average price per ton of soya beans has risen from R4500 to R5000 over the last 5 years. With the varieties like Fundacep 65RR getting 2.5 – 3mt/ha in a good season.

Soya bean production definitely needs to be on the radar of every South African farmer this season.

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