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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — 2018 has been a tough year for soybean producers, but they’re looking ahead at new uses and new market opportunities in the coming year.

That was the focus of this year’s Ag Outlook 2018. More than 800 farmers attended the annual meeting of the South Dakota Soybean Association, which features the Soybean Yield Contest, a trade show and various speakers.

Mark Luecke, CEO of Prairie AquaTech, updated farmers on the progress on the new plant near Volga that will produce soy-based feed for aquaculture. He says their product, ME-PRO, provides an exciting new market for South Dakota soybeans.

“Soybean meal is used in aquaculture at a very low inclusion rate, and because of what we’ve done with our process to make South Dakota’s soy-based ME-PRO, we’re able to get into a much larger percentage of the diet,” he says.

The plant will open in spring 2019 and produce 30,000 tons of the feed from a little over 50,000 tons of soybean meal from the state’s farmers, which will add value to their soybean crop.

“We’re buying soybean meal for $400 a ton and we’re selling a soy-based product for $1,500 a ton and that’s important economically for the farmers,” Luecke says.

Economist Dr. Matt Roberts with Kernmantle Group talked about the cycles in commodity prices from 2000 and 2018 and what is ahead in commodity prices. He told farmers the low grain price cycle was near the end until the tariff war started. He says grain prices in the spring of 2018 offered some good prices and provided some optimism, that was until the trade war erupted.

“I think the tariffs are extending this, they’re continuing to suppress demand. How long the trough lasts is not exact. I think we probably have another maybe two years,” he says.

Fred Below, professor of crop physiology at the University of Illinois, shared his “Six Secrets of Soybean Success.” They include fertility, hybrid selection, foliar protection, insect and disease control, seed treatment use and row spacing.

The one area most commonly overlooked, according to Below, is fertility. He says farmers don’t think they need to fertilize because the soybean gets some of its nitrogen from the nodules.

“A common practice I think is to fertilize the corn and let the soybean use what’s left over, but they do not realize how little is left over,” he says.

In fact, he says if farmers take what they put on corn and put even a portion on soybeans, there is a real yield advantage. Plus, most farmers realize the benefit of potassium, but phosphorus and sulfur are also important for yield.

Another agronomic debate regarding soybean production is planting populations, which Below says need to be pushed.

“Most of our highest yields do come when we go in narrower rows and we increase the population. Both of those strategies are designed to cover the ground as fast as possible and intercept as much light as possible and yield is all about light interception,” he says.

Below adds that when farmers combine some of these practices in a system, they can take yields even higher.

The South Dakota Soybean Research and Promotion Council also uses Ag Outlook as a way to show and tell soybean farmers about the programs their checkoff supports. Centerville, S.D., farmer Tim Ostrem serves on the council and says farmers use the education they gain from the conference to better their operations.

“We want to be forward-thinking and see what things we can do to raise our yields even more in the future and some of the benefits we can get from the byproducts of our soybeans like biodiesel and items like that. We want to try to expand any way we can get some revenue,” he says.

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