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5 steps to better soybean profits

These days, soybeans are the punch-drunk boxers of the crop world. Tariffs and a multitude of growing season maladies like waterhemp are taking their toll.

Still, soybeans have lots of perks in their corner. They aren’t called the miracle crop for nothing.

READ MORE: Brazil and Argentina grow half of world's soybeans

By fixing their own nitrogen (N), soybeans aren’t weighed down by high commercial fertilizer costs that crops like corn incur. Soybeans have niche-market potential, as they’re the darling of dietitians who love the legume for its health benefits. Soybeans also provide a rotational break for corn that’s encountering problems of its own, such as resistance to corn rootworm control measures. 

This, though, depends on the ability to grow soybeans profitably. Here are five steps to keep in mind for 2020 and beyond. 

Select varieties wisely.

These days, seed companies have good products to sell, says Lance Tarochione, Asgrow/DeKalb technical agronomist. How they perform, though, hinges on field specifics. That’s why he advises farmers to match their seed choices to field specifics and management style.  

“It may be soil types, it may be tillage practices, it maybe be disease histories,” he says. Tracking this information can enable farmers and seed dealers to tailor the best variety to the field.

It’s here where digital agricultural tools can help farmers better zero in on field specifics. “The more information you can learn and insights you have about a field enable the seed provider to help you better position products on a farm,” says Tarochione.

Plant early if you can.

You’ve heard of the expression that cleanliness is next to godliness? Shaun Casteel tweaks that by saying: “Timeliness is next to godliness.” 

This certainly applies to soybean planting, says the Purdue University Extension agronomist. Provided a field is properly tiled, soybean planting may occur even earlier than you’d think. 

In Indiana, late April or early May is a good time to plant soybeans. Properly tiled fields help make this possible, he says.

“If a producer’s been able to plant corn for three to four days (around this time period), then beans should also be going in,” he says.

That’s because soybeans respond to photoperiods. The more sunlight they can glean, the more photosynthesis they can churn, which creates more yield potential, says Casteel. Early development also sets the stage for root development and for nodules to provide enough N to retain leaves and fill pods and seeds. 

Snuff weeds before they start.

Granted, applying a preemergence residual herbicide was difficult to impossible in a number of fields last year. In some cases, farmers planted first and then concentrated on terminating weeds or cover crops.

“We were playing catch-up all season long,” says Bill Johnson, Purdue University Extension weed specialist.  

This year poses some unique weed-management challenges, given all the prevented plant acres that occurred in 2019. Some farmers dealt with weed challenges on these acres with cover crops or tillage. “The big surprise will come this year for folks who didn’t do anything on those acres,” he says. “Waterhemp and ragweed that went to seed will be major headaches.”

One way to head such weeds off is to snuff them before they start. “The backbones (of managing weeds) are preemergence residual herbicides,” says Johnson. “The postemergence herbicides should be for cleaning up the weeds that residuals do not get.” 

In one sense, it’s a flashback to the pre-Roundup Ready Days. “With soybeans, we used Treflan and Canopy and incorporated them into the soil,” recalls Lynnet Talcott, who farms with her husband, Norris, near Bennet, Nebraska.  

Normally, they till corn ground before planting soybeans. However, continual rains last spring caused them to nix that plan and instead no-till soybeans followed by an application of a preemergence residual herbicide to set up their postemergence strategy. 

These programs aren’t cheap. “We have to get used to waterhemp being a $50-per-acre weed,” says Johnson. “You can’t rely just on postemergence treatments. You have to be of the mind-set to have overlapping residuals.” 

Weed management on prevented plant acres may be tweaked, but Johnson says a full rate of a preemergence residual herbicide still needs to serve as the foundation.

READ MORE: Its a new era in weed management

Manage for fallow syndrome.

Prevented plant acres bring along another headache: fallow syndrome. Although better known in corn when purple plants reveal a phosphorous (P) deficiency, fallow syndrome can also surface in soybeans. 

“It’s not something that catches your eye like in corn,” says Casteel. “When we look at P deficiency in soybeans, it’s just that the leaves are smaller and darker.”

There’s good and bad news regarding 2020 fallow syndrome concerns on unplanted 2019 acres. The good news is, it’s not as likely to be an issue in unplanted fields that were simply too wet for equipment to enter last year as fields that were flooded, says Bob Nielsen, Purdue University Extension agronomist. 

That’s because flooding kills soil fungi like mycorrhizae that form a symbiotic relationship with plant roots by increasing the reach of roots to access nutrients.

In corn, fallow syndrome symptoms may surface the following year in the form of purple corn triggered by a P deficiency.  

Fallow syndrome concerns can be alleviated by planting cover crops on unplanted acres. The roots help stimulate water infiltration and sustain fungi that thrive when a crop is planted. 

Weeds – as unwelcome as they are – can even help ease fallow syndrome concerns. Still, they don’t foster some of the soil fungi as much as crops do, says Nielsen. 

As in corn, starter fertilizer also can ease P deficiency concerns in soybeans, says Casteel. 

“If you have a starter setup, you can go with 3 gallons of orthophosphate in-furrow,” he says.

READ MORE: How to better bean yields

Harvest soybeans at optimal moisture rates.  

“Last year, corn was still maturing, so producers could harvest soybeans earlier than they normally do,” says Casteel. 

This presented a great opportunity to harvest at the preferred 13% to 14% moisture rather than 10%. Harvesting soybeans at levels around 13% to 14% moisture creates fewer splits and other damage, he says. 

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