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High Yield Team: A little dab'll do ya

Remember the line from the old Brylcreem ads that went "A little dab'll do ya?"

Well, the same premise also applies to a way to remove some of the sting from rising soybean seed costs.

Plant thinner. Not only does this slice seed costs, but planting thinner ultimately benefits yield by giving your soybeans more room to thrive.

So how much is a little dab? That varies. But it's a good bet it's less than what you have typically planted.

Recommended soybean plant populations have typically tallied as high as 170,000 plants per acre or more for soybeans planted in 30-inch rows. For drilled soybeans, recommended seeding rates have bobbed up to 200,000 to 250,000 seeds per acre.

That's changed.

"All it takes is 100,000 plants per acre at harvest to maximize soybean yield," points out Palle Pedersen, Iowa State University (ISU) Extension agronomist and member of the High Yield Team expert panel.

Of course, you'll still want to plant more than 100,000 seeds per acre. That's because disease, insects, environment, and natural plant mortality all slice soybean stands during the growing season.

Still, recommended starting levels are now lower than before. Pedersen says planting 125,000 to 140,000 seeds per acre is optimum in most cases in Iowa when using a planter with row units and a little tillage. That's based on 63 ISU population trials across Iowa from 2003 to 2007.

This rate range applies in other states, too. "There is a population sweet spot of seeding around 140,000 seeds per acre, regardless of geography," says Bruce Battles, Syngenta agronomy marketing manager. That's based on 23 site-year trials in north and central Corn Belt states from 2003 to 2006.

The general downsizing of seeding rates jibes with what Wayne Blunier, a HYT member from Roanoke, Illinois, has been doing for 25 years. He seeds soybeans in 30-inch rows at 125,000 plants per acre.

"I've often thought that we as farmers don't plant corn thick enough and beans too thick," he says. "As long as we have a uniform stand with no two-inch gaps, everything works fine."

Remember the line from the old Brylcreem ads that went "A little dab'll do ya?"

There is some wiggle room in seeding specifics, though. "In 2006 and 2007, our data told us very different things," says Jim Trybom, Pioneer Hi-Bred agronomy sciences research manager.

You know how you feel sandwiched between wall-to-wall people while standing in line for a hot dog at a football game?

So you've decided that a little dab'll do ya. How much of a dab should you plant come spring?

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