Last year was more proof for Andy Rodefer of the value in placing a high priority on getting soybeans off to a good start.
“We think you should be getting beans out there just as early as corn, if not earlier. On most occasions beans can take a lot of stress. Sometimes they don’t always look good but they can still come back after a lot of cold, tough weather and yield really well,” said Rodefer, who farms in Preble County. “In a lot of years planting early helps, but you have to protect the seed and roots as the plant comes out of the ground. In our area we hope we don’t have the rainfall like we did last year and that we get a good start for 2016.”
And Rodefer hopes that is the case not only for his farm, but also the numerous area farms he works with as a Syngenta seed dealer and a soybean seed treatment facility owner.
“We have been involved in the seed business for a number of years and now seed companies have a lot more to offer in seed treatments than what they used to. We had an opportunity to put our own treater set up in here at the farm to give farmers more choice in treatments and offer options that some of the seed companies don’t offer. By adding these treatments it can take good genetics and really get them to perform by protecting that yield,” Rodefer said. “We do some custom treating, but mostly we do true bulk and we usually run three to four main varieties. We normally start treating around the first of March all the way through planting season. We offer a lot of different treatments, including treatments Syngenta may not offer. There are also a lot of inoculants that can only be on the seed 60 to 120 days before you plant and that shelf life can limit what seed companies can offer. This puts things at the farmer level rather than the company level to open up the door for some different things.”
The process starts with the arrival of untreated seed beans in a semi on the farm.
“We put them in our storage tanks. Then, starting at the tank the seed goes to a conveyor belt that runs it into a scale hopper and weighs it. Everything is certified on the scales. Once we have a stamped weight, we run the seed down another conveyor that runs it into a treater and out the other end of it into another conveyor where it will go into a box, wagon or tender,” he said. “The system is pretty much automated. We have a computer screen in the building. We type in the variety and how many units and it is automated from there.”
There are a number of different options with seed treatments, starting with untreated seed.
“We have several farmers who get untreated beans because they don’t know if the treatments make a difference or not. The difference happens underground and sometimes you can visually see a difference and sometimes you don’t. When you get damp, cold conditions in the spring, though, seed treatments
can really shine and in good conditions they can help maximize yield,” Rodefer said. “We add inoculant to some of those. There are all kinds of inoculants and I don’t know that there is much difference in performance between them, but we feel like inoculants are worth one to two bushels pretty easily. In terms of seed treatments, the biggest difference I look at is the active ingredients on the label. When you look at that you can separate the good from the bad and what you are really getting. Sometimes you get what you pay for.
“We start out with CruiserMaxx and Vibrance, which is our low-end treatment from Syngenta. We start there and go up. CruiserMaxx has been on the market for a long time and Vibrance is a fungicide. We then move up to our biggest sellers, which are Clariva Complete beans that help with soybean cyst nematodes (SCN). The SCN are in the fields and they are definitely affecting yields. With a corn-bean rotation I think it is worth three or four bushels per acre pretty consistently. If you are soybeans after soybeans you can see eight or 10 bushels in some circumstances. We’ve seen in our own situation, if there is any early stress at all, seed treatments can be really valuable. We don’t recommend anything until we have seen the results on our farm.”
Ohio State University Extension specialists agree, particularly in fields prone to wet, cold conditions early in the season. Seed treatments should be considered in fields where replanting has been needed more than once in the last 10 years and if there is a history of head scab in wheat (Fusarium) or Gibberella stalk rot in corn. Fields with a history of Phytophthora, Pythium, and Rhizoctonia can also typically benefit from fungicide seed treatments, according to Ohio State University Extension.
“Host resistance is the primary means by which we manage many grain crop diseases, but there is little effort put into screening for resistance towards Pythium spp., Fusarium spp. (other than F. virguliforme which causes sudden death syndrome of soybean) and Rhizoctonia solani in comparison to other diseases. This is where seed treatments aimed at watermolds and true fungi can play a big role for fields which are high risk for these seed and seedling pathogens,” wrote Anne Dorrance and Pierce Paul in a CORN Newsletter article this winter. “This protects the seed and seedling when they are the most susceptible.”
From Rodefer’s operation, the range of seed treatment options leads to a differing range of costs.
“Our lowest treatment is around $14 a unit and our most expensive treatment package is in the low $20 range,” he said. “I know cost is a big factor now and it can be hard to make those decisions, but somewhere between 70% and 75% of our sales are from the most expensive seed treatment we offer. That tells me that, in our area, guys feel like they are worth it.”
Along with using seed treatments, Rodefer believes there are several other important steps to take for getting soybeans off to a strong start.
“We plant beans with a John Deere Air seeder. We started with a 750 no-till drill years ago and have been running the air seeder for a while now. We have done some studies against split row planters to see if the spacing helps with yield. We found that usually at the end of the day the yield is about the same, but you definitely have a more consistent drop and you use less seed with the planter. The disadvantage is that they are a lot heavier. They both have their pluses and minuses,” he said. “Most of my guys in 15-inch rows will be in the 170,000 to 180,000 range for a planting rate and the guys drilling will be closer to 200,000 to 220,000. We need to have a final stand around 140,000 or more I think so we can maximize soybean yields.
“I think some vertical tillage in the corn stalks in the fall can help add a little yield. We also recommend fungicide and insecticide late in the season. We think in most cases it is worth a payback. All those little things can help protect the yield.”
Of course, with soybean production, good weed control is essential for high yields.
“We have been working on our weed program for the last couple of years and we use a pre- program and come back with Roundup and it has worked pretty well,” Rodefer said. “The vertical tillage in our cornstalks in the fall has really helped with the marestail. You don’t have to move much dirt to get some control there too.”
Rodefer also thinks it is increasingly important to monitor SCN more closely on many farms.
“We are in a corn-bean rotation and we have taken samples for SCN and we are right at the threshold of populations that can hurt yield,” he said. “We don’t see SCN and don’t consider it every year but maybe it is doing more damage than we think.”
By working on the details, and getting the crop off to a solid start, soybeans can overcome quite a few obstacles.
“Last year everything came up really well, but things deteriorated as the season went along. They snapped out of it and the bean height was not very tall, but they still ended up yielding pretty well for some people in this area,” Rodefer said. “There is nothing better than a seed customer telling you they had their best beans ever at the end of the year. That makes you proud to be able do something to help them.”