Monday, January 15, 2018

Combine Management Strategies for High Soybean Yields

On July 19, 2017, the Illinois Soybean Association’s ILSOY Advisor Field Day took place in Roseville, IL on the farm of Ron Moore, current President of the American Soybean Association (ASA).  As a presenter, I spoke with growers answering questions about incorporating management strategies to increase soybean yields.  The foundation of this discussion was Dr. Fred Below’s Six Secrets of Soybean Success, but was focused on remaining profitable and sustainable in the future.  

Stephanie Porter and Tom Corbin representing Burrus Seed at the ILSOY Advisor Field Day.
(photo courtesy of Jill Loehr, Prairie Farmer)
1.      Weather
Weather is the #1 influence on soybean yields.  We can’t control Mother Nature, but we can plant early to obtain more sunlight or photosynthesis.  Plant at the same time as corn, but make sure the soil is fit.  Next, look at the extended forecast and do not expose to temperatures below 50° F for the first 24-48 hours during their rapid water imbibition period. After this time, soybeans should be tolerant to cold but there can still be a frost risk after emergence, especially moving north.

2.      Fertility
Hands down, fertility has been most instrumental when it comes to obtaining soybean yields above 60 bu/a. In the past, our fertility program centered around corn and our soybeans often got the “leftovers.”  Recent research has focused on fertility needs of soybeans at key times during the growing season.  Soil test often and supply soybean crops with P (phosphorus) and K (potassium), so they are not limiting factors of yield. 

3.      Foliar protection
Because most soybean yield (60 – 80%) comes from the middle of the plant (nodes 5 – 16), it is vital to protect that yield by applying a fungicide or insecticide at the growth stage R1 – R3.  Canopy protection is needed to protect critical reproductive growth stages (R1 – R5). Soybean varieties can differ in disease and aphid tolerance, and scouting fields throughout the growing season will guide economic foliar management decisions.

Limited soybean yields were not attributed to a single insect in 2017, but rather a combination of pests.
4.       Genetics
The rate of soybean genetic gain has increased with investment and new breeding methods. When planting early, growers should choose the right variety that is a fuller maturity to increase yield. Since early planted soybeans will have a longer time to grow before bloom, they may grow taller; therefore, a reduction in planting populations is suggested not only to help encourage branching (more nodes/pods) and reduce lodging, but also to alleviate some disease issues.

5.      Row arrangement
Many university studies have shown that narrow row soybeans produce higher yields.  Dr. Below’s work has also shown crop yield in narrow rows is more responsive to increased management as discussed throughout this article.

6.      Seed treatment
When planting early, seed treatment such as PowerShield® for sudden death syndrome (PS SDS) is a must not only for root rot protection, but also for management of SDS and early control of soybean cyst nematode (SCN).  Don’t forget the insecticide (neonicotinoid) can not only increase vigor, but also manage early season insects, such as bean leaf beetle.
A systems approach of many different management strategies is required when seeking high soybean yields, but factors such as field drainage, proper pH, planting depth (1.5 - 2 inches), and weed control should not be ignored. We want each soybean plant to be a factory with efficient production, while overcoming potential limiting factors. When thinking high soybean yields, one must be willing to take risks to earn rewards, while incorporating good agronomics for success.

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