Virginia crop production boomed in 2021, though few commodities fared better than the state’s record-breaking soybean harvest.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service annual crop production report, Virginia soybean growers harvested an estimated 27.1 million bushels in 2021, up 15 percent from 2020. Harvested acreage also increased by 30,000 acres to 590,000 acres.
The resulting yield of 46 bushels per acre was up four bushels from 2020, and eclipsed the state record of 44 bushels per acre, which was set in 2017.
A seed salesman by trade, Virginia Soybean Association President Tyler Franklin said his job allowed him to visit fields across the state and see the progress of last year’s crop unfold firsthand.
He noted that, despite severe drought conditions delaying some plantings and hampering most of Virginia throughout the growing season, soybean production never waned, and generated unexpected results.
“Soybean yields surprised me with how good they were. I was expecting them to be 10 to 15 bushels lower than what they actually turned out to be,” Franklin said.
“A lot of times, production tails off with later planting dates, but this year was very flat,” he explained. “The yields started off strong, and they finished strong right across the board for full-season and double-crop beans, and that added to our abundant harvests.”
In addition to favorable growth trends, Franklin said farmers’ willingness to invest in soybeans in 2020 due to strong prices was a contributing factor to last year’s record yields.
Franklin also noted the arrival of well-timed rainfall was invaluable to the soybean crop, a sentiment that was echoed by Southampton County farmer Lewis Everett.
“During the growing season we had rain that was timely, and the weather really fell in line to give us the opportunity to maximize our yield potential,” said Everett, who also serves on the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation Soybean and Feed Grains Advisory Committee. “Then, you couple that with an extremely favorable fall for harvest, that really helped us as well.”
While Everett noted drought wasn’t much of a factor in Southampton County, Halifax County grain grower Adam Davis said it was a much different story in Southside Virginia.
Operating at a rainfall deficit between 10 to 15 inches lower than the 10-year average, Davis said improved genetics allowed him and other Southside farmers to turn a quality crop.
“Soybeans are able to handle a lot more stress than other crops—and even themselves—compared to what they used to be able to handle,” said Davis, who also is vice president of the Virginia Soybean Association. “Fertility really helps some of that water-handling ability, and to be as dry as it was, we did OK. I’m very thankful for that.”