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Three Easy Steps to Boost Soybean Yields

In areas were soybean producers routinely have yields of less than 70 bushels per acre, the challenges are many: not enough precipitation, varieties that may not be ideal for the location, poor soils, and more. 

Ignacio Ciampitti, cropping systems and crop production specialist at Kansas State University, says growers in these lower-yielding environments (relative to the Soybean Belt) can take steps to boost yields, based on research he has gleaned from a host of soybean production studies outside the prime soybean growing regions.  

Soybean yields are dependent upon genetics and management practices. So, assuming farmers have found the right varieties for their farm, the management tweaks should be a cinch. 

Ciampitti says these tips are ideal for areas where top-end yield is usually limited to 70 bushels per acre. 

Step 1: Narrow Row Spacing

Switching from 30-inch rows to 15-inch rows improves light interception, early canopy closure, better weed control and boosts photosynthesis. "This allows the plants to produce more biomass, which will result in more pods and grains per plant," Ciampitti says. A note of caution: more plant biomass doesn't always equate to higher yields. The agronomist says a healthy plant is more apt to converting sunlight into soybeans. So, make sure fields are soil tested and fertilized correctly in order to maximize yields. 

Yield Increase: about 5 bushels per acre

Step 2: Fungicide at R3 Stage

Follow the labeled rate of a foliar fungicide when the soybeans reach R3 stage, and you could see a yield benefit, even if diseases don't appear to be a problem in your fields, Ciampitti says. "I believe the fungicide promotes stay-green and acts a bit like a plant growth regulator. The plant fixes more carbon, which equals more yield," he explains. At the R3 stage, soybeans are just beginning to pod (pods are 3/16-inch) at one of the four uppermost nodes.

Yield Increase: about 3 bushels per acre 

Step 3: Higher Plant Population

It's easy in lower yielding environments to plant fewer seeds per acre. High-quality soybean seed isn't cheap! But research shows that planting from 140,000 to 175,000 seeds per acre is the right population range to maximize leaf area production and optimize yields. That energy, Ciampitti reasons, can then be used to boost pod development and thus, seed count. 

Yield Increase: about 3 bushels per acre

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