When planning for the upcoming growing season, it can be easy to focus more energy on corn production as it has traditionally been the more intensively managed crop. However, producers who put in the effort to manage their soybean crop have proven it is possible to attain high yields of 70+ bushels per acre. Below are some tips for planning to produce high-yielding soybeans in 2016.
• Quality seed: Planting the right seed sets the stage for the entire growing season. Growers should plant genetics with high yield potential. Choose varieties that have been tested at several locations and across multiple years. Growers should choose varieties adapted to their soil types and management practices. As with corn, choosing varieties with strong disease packages and agronomic traits with aid in achieving higher yields.
• Planting date: University research has proven that timely, early planting is one way to increase soybean yields. As with corn, planting soybeans by early May improves yield potential. This Ohio State University Study showed 2.5 bushels per acre yield improvement when planting May 8 vs. May 29. Purdue University has also documented maximized soybean yields for early May plantings in This Study.
• Seed treatments: Seed treatments are a critical component of a soybean management program, especially for growers who plant early or into no-till or minimum tillage situations. Early in the growing season when soils and weather conditions are cooler, germination and growth will be slowed down. Seed treatments provide protection from diseases and early season pests that can significantly reduce stands, decreasing yields and/or resulting in the need for replant.
• Fertility and pH: Adequate soil fertility is another important factor that allows soybeans to reach their maximum yield potential. Consulting soil tests and university recommendations for adequate levels of nutrients as well as crop removal rates will help determine how much potassium and phosphorus should be applied. When the proper pH range is maintained, soil nutrients will be available to the soybean plant for uptake. Generally, a pH range between 6.2 and 6.8 maximizes soybean yields. Adequate pH levels also improve the ability of Rhizobium bacteria to fix nitrogen.
• Inoculant: Inoculation of seed with Rhizobium will ensure that enough bacteria are present in the soil to fix adequate amounts of N. This is especially important in fields where soybeans have not been grown for multiple years.
• Row Widths and Seeding Rates: Row widths and seeding rates go hand-in-hand. University Research shows that narrower rows (15in or less) increase yields. Narrower rows allow for plants to canopy earlier and capture optimum levels of sunlight for photosynthesis. Seeding rates will vary based on row width, planting date, germ of soybean seed, and soil types. While some research recommends lower seeding rates, growers should take into consideration historical performance on their own farms. While seeding rates that are unnecessarily high may not improve yield and only incur additional input cost, seeding rates that are too low can result in reduced stands. Seeding rates may need to be higher in low yielding environments where emergence is a concern and plant stands can be diminished due to tough growing conditions. Proper seeding rates will improve emergence on the Eastern Corn Belt’s tight clay soil types where adverse conditions exist.
• Disease and Pest Management: Growers should plant soybean varieties with adequate disease resistance. Scouting throughout the growing season will also be important to determine if rescue treatments including fungicides or insecticides need to be made.
While it can be tempting to try the latest technology or new foliar product to drive yields, it is important to start with the important building blocks first. This Checklist from the University of Kentucky agronomist, Chad Lee is another resource for putting together a plan for producing soybeans in the 2016 growing season. Growers who take time to properly manage their soybeans will move closer to attaining the high-yield potential of today’s soybean genetics.