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How to better select soybean varieties

Each year, Paul Radermacher faces a plethora of choices in picking the best seed for his soybean fields. Yield potential, of course, is a big factor for the Ortonville, Minnesota, farmer, who farms with his brother, Glen (Bud), and nephew Tanner. 

“I also look for varieties with defensive characteristics as a rule,” he says. “Mold is becoming more of an issue for us.” 

Other stressors lurk in soybean fields these days, too. Soybean cyst nematode (SCN) stealthily clips yields before symptoms surface. Sudden death syndrome (SDS) rapidly defoliates soybeans previously destined for stratospheric yields. 

The maladies that occurred in 2020 can enable farmers to get a head start on curbing them in 2021 through variety selection. 

“Previous yield history gives us an idea of which products can be a good fit on a field,” says Jake Hoxmeier, a Pioneer field agronomist based in Lincoln, Nebraska. Ditto for soil fertility levels and varietal response under various weather and environmental scenarios 

“We can also determine if a disease or insect has historically increased in the field,” says Hoxmeier. “We can then select a variety with certain traits to address this.” 

For example, a farmer planting soybeans in a poorly drained area with a lodging history should select a variety with tolerance to lodging and associated diseases, says Hoxmeier. 

The historical rub against loading up on varieties with highly defensive characteristics is lower yield potential. That’s due to energy directed toward defensive traits. 

“The goal of a breeder is to develop varieties that don’t take away from yield, but have all the necessary agronomic traits,” says Hoxmeier. “There are products that may not be top-end yielders, but they can help compensate against SDS or lodging or whatever occurs in that field.” 

SCN Resistance

Resistance that pests develop to resistant traits can also occur. Due to repeated planting of varieties with the same resistance source – PI 88788 – SCN now resists this resistance source found in 95% of SCN-resistant soybean varieties. 

Alternatives exist. Several companies offer SCN-resistant varieties steeped in the Peking source of resistance. Syngenta plans to market a Group 2.3 variety with a new resistance source – PI 89772 – under the brand names Golden Harvest GH 2329X and NK S23-G5X in 2021. Meanwhile, BASF has obtained Environmental Protection Agency registration for a Bt trait – GMB151 – that offers moderate SCN suppression. BASF officials say work is progressing to commercialize the trait later this decade. 

“Diversifying [control measures] can extend the duration of each one,”
says Hoxmeier. 

Digital Tools 

Historically, a lot of things that have made you feel good about seed placement or seed buying decisions come to fruition at harvest,” says Hoxmeier. “You either liked your choices enough to stay with them, or didn’t like them and then decided to go a different direction with variety selection the next year.”

Digital tools make seed selection easier. “Now, we have a better idea of how a crop is going to perform well before harvest,” he says. “Tools like high-resolution satellite imagery delivered to a phone or tablet can give farmers additional insight.

“Digital tools can give farmers information in time to make a management decision that year to increase yield, or plan ways, like better fitting varieties, for the next year,” he adds.

“There is a race to improve returns from digital ag,” says Todd Kuethe, a Purdue University agricultural economist. “Digital ag proponents think that it will improve efficiency and that we are headed to a whole new world of agricultural production. I think a lot of technology seems to be a solution in search of a problem, but there are ones that will give productivity gains.”

Teaming up

Improved seed placement may result from agricultural companies joining forces to enhance their digital offerings. 

Last July, WinField United added The Climate Corporation’s Climate FieldView digital platform to its cloud-based data-management system, the WinField United Answer Tech Data Silo. 

“Data Silo is an aggregator of data that allows our R7 suite of [digital] tools to be connected directly to Climate’s set of tools,” says Jim Hedges, WinField United vice president of seed marketing. This will help farmers reduce duplicative efforts entering data between systems, he adds. 

“A key aspect of FieldView is that once you have information layers, farmers can start to see the top-performing hybrids on their farms,” says Max Dougherty, strategic accounts lead for The Climate Corporation, Bayer’s digital agriculture unit. “It enables farmers to see how hybrids stack up on different soil types and to dive into questions about really what’s driving or impacting performance in that field.”

This helps farmers form seed selection plans for the next season, Dougherty adds. FieldView can also record information about soybean varieties, he says. 

If farmers choose to connect the accounts, the arrangement enables them to automatically transfer FieldView hybrid information into Data Silo. They can then cross-check this with data from WinField United’s Answer Plot research program to determine how a hybrid may respond to in-season fungicide or nitrogen applications.

“Data without action is irrelevant,” says Hedges. “If we know which hybrid was planted on a field, our field forecasting tool can monitor in-season rainfall and temperature. This can help us know what is happening with nitrogen and help us customize a sidedress application based on those environmental conditions, rather than just sidedressing a certain amount like 100 pounds.

“I also farm in central Illinois, and I used to have six separate screens in the tractor – none of them could talk to each other,” adds Hedges. “Data Silo, which allows FieldView and R7 to talk to each other, is a huge advantage. From a privacy standpoint, having data housed in Data Silo also allows growers to choose where they want it to go.”

Microsoft enters agriculture

Microsoft is expanding its software and digital footprint into agriculture. In July, the technology giant and Land O’Lakes formed a multiyear strategic alliance to develop agricultural technologies that include:

Mitigating early plant stress to guide precisely where and when farmers should take action during the growing season.

Maximizing yield potential by planting the right seed varieties.

Land ’O Lakes, along with its crop input subsidiary, WinField United, pivoted its digital strategy 18 months ago, says Brett Bruggeman, WinField United president. 

“We believe in agronomics, and our retail network has the agronomic expertise,” says Bruggeman. 

However, he says, WinField United didn’t have the necessary background in technologies like artificial intelligence and data aggregation. 

“Before, we were spending money trying to do both,” says Bruggeman. “You can’t do both.”

In the alliance, the firms will focus on building the AgTech platform using Microsoft’s Azure digital cloud platform and Winfield United’s R7 suite of digital tools, Data Silo, and Truterra Insights Engine. One aspect of the alliance is using artificial intelligence and machine learning to make decisions around product placement, he says. 

“This includes determining the response in how they [hybrids and varieties] react to fungicide, or the right time to top-dress nitrogen in corn,” says Bruggeman. “It helps farmers answer the question regarding return on investment if they add another 50 pounds of nitrogen during the growing season.” 

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