I think we can all agree every growing season the last few years has been abnormal. But can you teach a seasoned farmer new soybean management practices in an abnormal year? We are about to find out! My wife, Jayne, and son, Jay, and I planted soybeans early for the first time in 2020.
I have seen university studies that show early planting can help maximize yield potential. Early soybeans can get a quick canopy up that helps with weed control and moisture retention. Soybeans planted early may have a better shot at filling pods when the days are the longest.
We started planting soybeans in mid-April in central Illinois. We went with a late Group II variety and a mid-Group III variety and used a fungicide and seed treatment to prevent any early-season disease pressure and to prevent sudden death syndrome (SDS). And it is a good thing we did. We got half of the soybeans in and then it turned cool and wet.
In mid-May we were able to get back in the fields and switched to get all of our corn planted. Then we went back to finish up the soybeans. We planted mid-to-late Group III varieties with a fungicide and seed treatment. There was about a month between soybean planting dates, including one variety planted at both dates, so it will be interesting to see the yield results.
Our growing degree units were low during the month of May, so we had some emergence problems, and some drowned out spots we had to go back in and replant with soybeans. We also treated our soybeans with a fungicide and insecticide at the R3 stage this year.
As we head into fall, I can look back and say both early and later-planted soybeans looked healthy all season. We thought we would be harvesting by the second half of September on the early soybeans, but they weren’t quite ready. It may be about two weeks later than we thought.
I would give the production edge to the early soybeans, but we expect above-average yields from both of the planting dates. I think overall it will be a good soybean crop.
We will follow harvest with another year of planting cereal rye as a cover crop. This year was the second year we had planted soybeans after cereal rye and it was a much better experience than in 2019. With all of the wet weather last year, we were unable to kill off the cover crop before it headed out. After two seasons of cover crops, I can say we will continue with them. We see the benefits of reduced soil erosion and nutrient retention.
The last observation I would make about the 2020 growing season is that in just the last few weeks, we have seen soybean prices rise and now have a crack at a profitable season. We are fortunate this year that the area where we farm in Illinois received timely rainfall all season. We believe that will help us have better-than-usual soybean and corn crops to harvest.