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8 Dos and Don’ts for Soybeans

Pay more attention to the management of the commonly planted legume.

Farmers frequently push soybeans to the backseat of their agronomic plans. When they do plant them, they often tighten the purse strings on inputs for the 88.7 million acres of soybeans throughout the U.S.

The good news: You don’t necessarily have to dig deeper in your pocketbook to garner soybean profits. Instead, Chad Lee, University of Kentucky Extension professor, and Shawn Conley, University of Wisconsin Extension soybean and wheat specialist, would prefer that you pay more attention to input selection and management.

As tight economics prompt you to consider cutting back your soybean investment, some inputs and practices can be placed on the chopping block. Others shouldn’t. Here are eight dos and don’ts from Lee and Conley to boost soybean bushels.  

1. Do invest in the seed.

“One thing I like to remind farmers of is to invest in high-yielding genetics,” says Conley.  

“Whichever type of bean you want to grow – LibertyLink, Xtend, or others – pick something that has good yield potential and a disease package for your area,” says Lee.

One suggestion Conley makes is to gather yield and performance data from multiple sources and a large land area to help ensure performance. Soybeans have a year or two turnover rate, says Conley. Because of that turnover, the more data you can gather, the better. Another way to spread the risk is to plant multiple soybean varieties, says Conley.

2. Don’t skimp on seed treatments.

Conley’s data shows a consistent 70% return on investment for seed treatments. “Seed treatments will pay for themselves or make you money,” he says.

If you’re trying to determine when to use seed treatments, opt for the early-planted soybeans.

“Early-planted soybeans are at a higher risk for disease and insect damage,” explains Lee. “Those are the best candidates for seed treatments.”

3. Do plant early.

“I like soybeans planted the last week of April and the first 10 days of May,” says Conley.

That’s because once past the first 10 days in May, you start to see a loss ranging from .2 to .5 bushel per acre per day.

“This is something free,” Conley says. “It doesn’t cost you any more to plant a few days earlier.”  

4. Do manage weeds.

“Based on last year, we saw more problems with weeds than we’ve seen in a long, long time,” says Lee. “Weed control is a major issue. So going into next season, you need to be as aware of your herbicide program as anything else.”

Conley urges you to use preemergence applications, residuals, full rates, multiple modes of action, and to make timely applications.

Lee saw in-season management as the biggest challenge in 2017. He doesn’t expect that to change in 2018.

“If you choose to ignore a weedy field, there’s no sense in worrying about anything else,” he says.

5. Don’t skimp on potassium.

Make sure you know what the yield level is and meet that demand, says Conley. Record yields for corn and soybeans the last couple of years have removed significant potassium (K) from the soil. “Eighty-bushel soybeans are equivalent to the removal of 100 pounds of K20 on that field,” he says.

“I understand if you don’t want to build, but you need to meet maintenance levels,” says Conley. “You don’t want to limit K – especially since K fertilizer is relatively inexpensive.”

6. Don’t throw extras in the tank just because.

Just because you’re making a pass across the field doesn’t mean you should add in additional products. Be judicial about what gets tossed in during the 2018 season.

“Think twice about all of the stuff you throw in the tank ‘just because,’ ” says Conley. “A lot of the products are $5 to $10 per acre, and it’s hard to show the return on investment.”

7. Do examine your seeding rate.

You could consider cutting back on seeding rates, advises Lee.

The rule of thumb for soybeans is 140,000 seeds per acre, according to Conley. There’s a price per seed; there’s a cost to high seeding rates, he adds.

“If you’re confident about getting good stands in the spring in your high-yield environments, you need fewer plants per acre to get your maximum yield,” says Lee. “If you’re planting full-season soybeans, you want a stand around 100,000 plants per acre at harvest.”

If you’re planting at 180,000 seeds per acre, there is room to cut back. At 120,000 seeds per acre, you are probably right where you want to be, says Lee.

“When you have really high populations, you have a lot of plant mortality,” says Conley. “They tend to die off, or they only have two or three pods on them.”

8. Do the basics.

“A lot of products are viewed as insurance,” says Lee. “Not all of them are necessary, but they’re selected because they might help you if an event occurs. This might be the year to raise the deductible and lower the premiums.”

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