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Tech Makes Soybeans Sizzle

Updated: 01/15/2013 @ 5:17pm

By: Gil Gullickson

Some farmers typically consider soybeans a sickly sibling to corn.  Well, perception is reality. If you treat soybeans like a lesser crop, the legume's yields will always trail those of corn. 
Shaun Casteel has a better idea. “Think of soybeans as equal to corn,” says the Purdue University Extension agronomist. When you team the smart use of technology with good management, soybeans do well, he notes.  Soybeans particularly scored high in droughty areas in 2012.  “Corn yields weren't good around here, but soybeans in good fields did well,” says Robert Wehr, who farms near Sigourney, Iowa, with sons Erik and Nick, and daughter Jill Landgrebe. “We had an abundance of pods early on, but there was little in them until we got a shower of rain in August. That really made the bean crop.”

Weather is an unknown for 2013. Still, rotating soybeans with corn and giving them equal billing can bode well for your bottom line. They don't even have to be rotated equally with corn.  “A corn/corn/soybean rotation is a good compromise,” says Jeff Coulter, University of Minnesota Extension agronomist.

University of Illinois trials from 2004 to 2007 with 12 site-years showed soybean yields after two years of corn were 6% higher than those in a corn/soybean rotation. Meanwhile, soybeans complemented corn yields. Although second-year corn yields fell 7% compared to first-year corn, the drop-off was not as steep as the 10% dip in continuous corn. “And whenever corn followed soybeans, yields were higher,” Coulter says.

Variety selection is key
Obtaining these yield gains hinges, to a large degree, on variety selection. Molecular marker breeding technology has turned out some high-yielding soybean varieties in recent years. The trick is to find out which varieties yield best on your farm. Not all soybean varieties are high yielding.  “Our trials have shown a 6-to 12-bushel-per-acre difference from the highest to lowest yielder,” says Casteel. “So start with genetics for the highest yield potential and yield consistency.”

Yield potential is the top consideration for the Wehrs when they pick soybean varieties. “Emergence, standability, and whether they adapt to no-till are also important,” Wehr says. 
Disease tolerance is another factor the Wehrs eye. Last year's drought provided a respite from sudden death syndrome (SDS), a fungal disease prone to wet spring weather that can obliterate soybean yields up to 100%.

“When we saw SDS in southern Illinois in 1983, we didn't know what it was,” says Don Schafer, DuPont Pioneer senior marketing manager. Now, this fungal disease has expanded to a point where it is in the central Red River Valley of North Dakota and Minnesota, he says.

Tech for SDS tolerance
Unlike insects, there are no traits that resist soybean diseases. In SDS's case, part of the difficulty in creating a truly resistant variety is that it's a multigenic disease.

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