There are many considerations that go into planting a soybean crop:
1. Planting Date: In 2021, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) planting progress reports for Illinois continually showed that Illinois soybean producers were planting a larger percentage of soybean acres earlier than the previous year, and even the five-year average.
2. Seed Treatments: Since early planting has become a more widely accepted practice, many soybean producers are deciding to treat their soybeans from stresses associated with the soil, environment and opportunist critters.
3. Seeding Rates: Since Illinois soybean producers are planting earlier and using seed treatments, the trend for seeding rates has continued to be challenged and reduced from 180,000 to 140,000 seeds per acre, and now are closer to 100,000 or 120,000. However, this rate varies based on regional environments and challenges.
4. Row Spacing: We have seen soybean row spacing go from narrow (drill) to 15-inch rows, then to 30-inch rows. Thirty-inch rows were popular for a while because a producer could be more efficient with equipment (corn planter = soybean planter). In recent years, in an effort to maximize the soybean canopy quickly, there have been more efforts to bring the soybean row closer together. A quick canopy can help reduce weed pressure, resulting in less herbicides being applied later in the growing season and a cooler soil surface.
5. Tillage vs. No-till: Tillage has always been a popular method to prepare a seedbed and reduce weed pressure. However, in recent years more soybeans are planted into corn stalks in no-till fields, and sometimes even a cover crop. This reduction in tillage over time can allow for improved soil function, which supports water infiltration and water holding capacity. With all the erratic weather events and heavy rain over the last several years, producers should start to consider how well the soil function is doing on their fields.
At the end of the day, a lot of time goes into making the above decisions that will influence how a soybean will perform and should influence variety selection and purchase decisions. For years, there were four primary considerations that went into a seeding decision:
1. What’s the relative maturity? (Most want it to be 3.4-4.2.)
2. How well do they stand?
3. How well do they yield?
4. How much does it cost?
As soybean producers in Illinois strive for 80, 100 and even 120 bu/ac yields, many are or should be asking more detailed questions to ensure they are purchasing the best bean for their acres. Illinois producers are fortunate that many companies have made the investment into genetic offerings that have allowed producers to select from a wide range in relative maturity (2.0-5.0 RM), selecting from numerous brands (15++) and several herbicide traits and non-herbicide trained products (6+/-).
So, the big question is, how much time is actually spent going through the data and selecting the right product for agronomics and economics?
To bring some perspective, let’s evaluate the University of Illinois (U of I) 2020 soybean variety yield trials. Note: This is from a single location.
1. There were 92 soybean varieties from RM 2.7-4.2.
2. The Average Yield was 85 bu/ac.
3. The Highest Yield was 94 bu/ac.
4. The Lowest Yield was 59 bu/ac.
5. There were 19 groups of yields.
6. There was a $420 per acre difference in selecting the best or worst beans.
As you can tell, there’s a lot riding on selecting the right soybean that will be planted across one’s acres in the coming year and there is a lot of time invested in how a soybean field will be managed. But how much time is spent selecting the right soybean? Based on this trial from U of I in 2020, there were only seven soybean products that yielded in the upper third of the yield trials and five soybean products that yielded in the lower third of yield trials. As production agriculture becomes more challenging and more competitive, make sure you’re investing adequate time in selecting your soybean products.