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Four steps to higher soybean yields

Agriculture.com Staff 02/10/2016 @ 9:25am

In a perfect world, soybean yields could tally 100 bushels an acre or more. Unfortunately, the real world is filled with pests and pathogens that nibble away at a variety's genetic potential.

"Are 100 bushel an acre yields possible?" asks Palle Pedersen, Iowa State University (ISU) Extension soybean agronomist. "They are possible in plots. At a field level, though, probably not. But 60 to 80 bushel an acre yields are realistic."

In 2005, many farmers across the Midwest achieved these types of yields. Of course, picture-perfect weather certainly was a factor. Yet, good management played a more important role, says Pedersen. Here are four steps that Pedersen has stressed in Iowa that can have merit elsewhere in taking soybean yields to the next level.

1. Focus on factors with the biggest payoff. "Remember to look at your own pasture before looking across the fence," says Pedersen.

Take tillage. "The reason people talk about tillage in Iowa is it is important to corn," says Pedersen. "Tillage is key in warming up soils in the spring in Iowa. But we cannot manage corn and soybeans in the same way. Since soils have warmed up more by the time soybeans are planted, yield response to tillage pales compared to corn."

That's particularly true in Iowa on well-drained fields seeded with a properly set planter, says Pedersen. "There are areas where we can't use no-till systems in Iowa, but we may be able to improve that in the future," he adds. "A lot of research will be needed first. Other factors that we often focus on in Iowa that rarely pay off are fertility recommendations that deviate from extension recommendations and plant populations."

All these factors pale when compared to variety selection, which is the most important factor in raising soybean yields. Growers today have a good selection to choose from for the maladies that impact them. For example, central Iowa growers who face problems with soybean cyst nematode (SCN) have a good selection of high yielding varieties that are resistant to SCN.

"We know it's going to be there every year, so let's manage it," points out Pedersen.

2. Monitor pests and treat when necessary. "I'm not afraid of rust, I'm not afraid of aphids or bean leaf beetles," says Pedersen. "We have tools to manage them. If we get to the threshold using IPM (integrated pest management) guidelines, all we have to do is pull the trigger and treat. We need to do some in-season management so we don't do anything that isn't necessary."

3. Plant early. Maybe leisurely is too strong a word to use. But after the pressure to get corn planted on time, soybean planting typically hasn't had the same sense of time urgency.

That's changed. New research shows that planting soybeans early can boost yields. In southern Iowa, Pedersen recommends planting as early as April 25. ISU research shows planting this early can pay off 83% of the time. Due to the danger of frost, Pedersen moves back his recommendation for northern Iowa to May 1.

4. Scout, scout, and scout some more. "You have to remember the new insects like soybean aphid and bean leaf beetle," says Pedersen. "You cannot say in March if they will show up. But you can be aware of them in the growing season by doing some weekly scouting and then manage them if they reach thresholds. You have the potential to make a lot of money out there by doing some intensive scouting."

In a perfect world, soybean yields could tally 100 bushels an acre or more. Unfortunately, the real world is filled with pests and pathogens that nibble away at a variety's genetic potential.

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