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Plant Soybeans Early

Planting early is a way to boost soybean yields.

Imagine being able to harvest an extra 8 to 10 bushels per acre of soybeans without spending another dime. According to Kris Ehler, a seed agronomist with Ehler Bros. Seed, a family-owned business based near Thomasboro, Illinois, all you have to do is plant soybeans early.

Ehler Bros. Seed has been doing early planting soybean trials since 2009. Although the February 22 planting date the company experimented with this past season may sound a little extreme, Ehler advocates planting full-season soybeans (normally groups 3.5 to 4.2, with 4.7 soybeans tossed in this year) no later than the end of April.

“The February 22 planting date (on a 1-acre plot) was my ‘sledge hammer,’ ” he says. “It was my way of driving home the message that farmers need to plant soybeans earlier than they’re used to planting them. Our data looks very similar to the other research data across the region, which shows that growers give up 0.3 to 0.4 bushel per day when planting soybeans after May 10. Our own field trials in 2016 were no exception. They showed an 8.3-bushel-per-acre advantage on the same variety planted on April 26 compared with a plot planted on May 23 right beside it.”

Why It Works 

“Soybeans love to harvest sunlight,” he says. “By planting early, you give that soybean plant the ability to harvest more sunlight prior to the days becoming shorter. If you can get that soybean plant out of the ground and growing sooner, you ultimately have the potential to put on more nodes and pods, which equals more beans and higher yields.”

While most Corn Belt producers plant corn first, followed by soybeans, Ehler believes it should be the other way around. He insists soybeans can handle cool, damp weather much better than corn. He proved that with the soybeans planted in February. Even though they had snow on them in mid-March followed by freezing temperatures, Ehler ended up with over 90% seedling survival and a final yield of 86.9 bushels per acre, which was even better than he expected.

“This past year was a good illustration,” he says. “We had a lot of corn replants due to cool, wet conditions in late April. On the other hand, we know that soybeans can withstand those cooler temperatures without a penalty. So I think it’s better to plant soybeans first and wait for warmer, more consistent soil temperatures to plant corn.

“The risk is still pretty high for soybeans planted in March, but I would certainly advocate an April planting date,” he says.

Ehler says he tries not to treat his early-planted soybeans any differently than the average producer would during the growing season, except for several products to enhance pod fill and mitigate plant stress. 

He also applies a preemergence and postemergence application of herbicide with a residual for weed control, and he applies fungicides and insecticides as needed. 

“There are very few things in your operation that don’t cost a dime but can make you $60 to $80 per acre,” he concludes. “Simply moving up the planting date for soybeans is one of those things.”

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