The biggest question I get asked now that all the soybeans have been harvested is, what lessons did we learn and what can growers do differently next year? My answer would usually include a joke about not using as much water. However, despite having too much rain last year, the soybeans didn’t seem to suffer as much as expected based on final yields.
Tillage is the first thing that I would address in the answer. No-till soybeans have had a tough couple of years. I believe that having some form of tillage ahead of soybeans has paid off the last two years. I have one customer that I work with who is going to try planting his soybeans in strip-till next year, so I’m interested to see how that turns out.
Planting date is another important item that comes up in the discussion. I am a firm believer in early planting of soybeans, and May 1 is a good day to start. Specifically, plant the fields with the highest yield potential first, starting on or close to that date. Every year, I chart planting dates and yields of certain varieties of soybeans, and there is always a strong correlation.
The next lesson has to do with weed control. If you are not already using a residual pre-emerge, why not? Times have changed, and some growers learned that the hard way this year. Weeds are the one pest that is relatively easy to control, but you have to use the tools available. Part of my answer to the question may also include adding inputs during the growing season. These include biologicals, micronutrients, fungicides, nitrogen and insecticides.
Here is my very quick recipe for success based on what I have learned over the past several years. Biologicals and/or micronutrients can be used, if the crop is under stress and requires the additional nutrients—the need can always be validated by tissue testing. Fungicides should be used on soybeans—I think this past year would show that fungicides had a great return on investment. Nitrogen—the jury is still out on this one—I am thinking about doing some more testing on this subject. Soybeans certainly need nitrogen, so adding nitrogen is not going to hurt.
I am more concerned that we are not getting a good return for the dollars being spent on the crop. Insecticides should only be used if you have an insect problem. I have seen insecticides sprayed time and time again because it was convenient, and not because it was necessary.
The final comment I would make about lessons learned that could carry over to next year would be about harvest timeliness. It was very hard for me to watch the thousands of bushels of soybeans coming in under 8 percent moisture—those are bushels you are leaving on the table. A lot of the soybeans that were harvested early this year had plants that were still green, but the beans were well within harvesting moisture, so get out there early next year! Good luck on your 2016 soybean crop!
It has been a pleasure working as your soybean envoy this year for District 2.
Jeff Keifer specializes in agronomic data and technology at the Elburn Cooperative Company. His job requires him to help his fellow sales team deliver agronomic and technological knowledge to their customers. Jeff is a 2001 graduate from the University of Wyoming with a degree in Agroecology and is glad to be back working in his home area.