Want to break 100 bushels? Here are a few foundation steps to follow.
As with corn, soybean yield and profitability potential decline once the seed is placed and becomes vulnerable to the environment and the field’s biological systems. The day of planting is when yield potential is at its greatest. A good start to high yields usually means planting early, at the right population and with the proper seed treatments.
For many years soybean yields have remained in the 50- to 60-bushel-per-acre range. However, in recent years producers have been re-evaluating their management practices and challenging themselves to reach the 100-bushel threshold. It’s great to sit back and say: “I produced 100-bushel beans last year.” However, the true challenge is to understand how to sustainably produce high yields year after year.
One way to look at soybean yields is based on a formula where yield is equal to pods per acre times seeds per pod times weight per seed. To maximize yield it’s up to producers to implement agronomic strategies and management practices to reduce as much risk as possible and to properly supply the plant’s needs. A soybean plant is an energy factory; more plant foliage equals more light interception per acre for the growing season.
Planting Dates: Dr. Emerson Nafziger, University of Illinois, recently published a multi-year and multi-location planting date study. Results indicate that planting soybeans the second half of April pays off in more bushels. Maximum yield could start to drop as early as planting during the first ten days of May. Planting at mid May reduces yield by upwards of 10 percent.
However, crop insurance dictates when planting begins: April 15 (Southern), April 20 (Central) and April 24 (Northern). When dealing with biological organisms, planting dates should be based on risk/reward concepts. Yes, earlier planting does allow for a higher projected yield. However, producers can also plant too early. And remember, each season is different.
Planting Population: Population is a balance between seed investment per acre and achieving optimum final stands. Several studies have shown that maximum yield could be obtained with as few as 100,000 plants per acre at harvest. Consider the population at planting that can offset 85 percent germination, soil-borne pathogens that can reduce stands, and poor early season vigor.
Most producers lean toward planting on the heavy side to make sure there are ample plants per acre so replant isn’t a concern. However, there must be a balance from a seed investment/planting population standpoint. Today, most producers are planting in a range of 140,000 to 160,000 seeds per acre depending on planting date, row spacing and field condition. The magic number is whatever works best in each producer’s system.
Seed Treatments: So, now you’re thinking: “I need to plant earlier and should plant less seed. This sounds pretty risky!”
It’s hard to prove that a basic seed treatment works all the time, because it depends on the environment that the seeds were placed into. If a field was planted early, with a reduced planting population, and the field environment turned wet and cold immediately after planting, a seed treatment can help preserve the stand so that replant isn’t a concern.
However, as with any other solution-based products you may use, if the field or seeds don’t have this problem, then it’s hard to determine return on investment. But in Illinois, how many fields get planted into great seeding conditions across every acre with great weather through emergence and early vigor? Therefore, seed treatments may help produce a wider planting window with reduced risk.
CCA Todd Steinacher is an agronomist at AgriGold. He works with growers to better manage their nitrogen and weed control needs, along with understanding the best way to estimate cost to generate a strong ROI.