Starting Strong with Early Planted Soybeans

Its mid-March and most growers are still locked in winter. It will take some time for snow to melt and soils to warm and be in condition for planting. Makes me wonder how many soybeans will be planted ‘early’ this spring, especially since ‘early’ is dependent on spring arrival and planting latitude.

Getting soybeans off to a strong start doesn’t necessarily mean planting early. However, early planting is strongly associated with higher soybean yields and for good reason. Early planting gives the crop more time to grow and put on additional nodes and branches before R1 or flowering. More nodes equate to more pods and higher yield at the end of the season.

Regardless whether you plant early in April or during a more conventional May time frame, below are five other important factors to getting soybeans off to a good start and establishing yield potential.

Drainage: While soybean seeds can tolerate more saturated soil than corn seed, soybean seedlings and plants don’t like wet feet. Managing drainage is more strategic and requires some long-term planting include tilling, deep tillage, building soil health (tilth), and learning to manage trafficking when the soil is not wet.

Variety selection: Enough can’t be said about selecting a variety that performs, is adapted, and has the right agronomic traits. Today varieties are often chosen for herbicide traits first and then yield and agronomic characteristics second. Variety decisions though are being made sooner all the time and often during the fall after the last crop season. Always do your homework, look at performance results and rely on advice from agronomists.

Seed treatments: Seed companies began offering seed treatments on soybeans in earnest over a decade ago and adoption has been rapid. Today over 80% of the soybean seeds planted are treated and it may be even greater than that. Seed companies want to protect the performance of their varieties and are making seed treatment applications mandatory. Also, growers want to get as much value from their seed as possible by achieving a good stand and, perhaps more importantly, by reducing seeding rates to save on seed costs.

Seed treatments are becoming a complicated purchase process and not easy to sort out. Seed companies often have a say on what dealers can apply to protect the integrity of germination. Today you can apply fungicide, insecticide, nematicide, SDS control, rhizobia inoculant and other biological inoculations containing bacteria, fungi and growth promoting molecules and that list is expanding. Remember that the fungicide treatment is probably the most important and requires 2-4 different active ingredients. What is applied is based on available seed real estate (seed can only carry so much product before germination is impacted) and the overall cost per acre for the treatment.

Soil conditions: Avoid planting on poorly drained soils and those prone to ponding or saturated soils. Soil should be moist yet crumbly. Yield reductions from ‘mudding the seed in’ will be greater than delays in planting. Adjust seeding depth according to soil conditions. The old school of thought was to plant between 1 and 1.5 inches. However newer thinking suggests you can plant between 1.5 and 2 inches to get into soil with a more consistent temperature and moisture regime, leading to more even emergence. Today’s seed genetics offer much better seedling vigour. When partnered with a seed treatment, they could provide the protection under the seedling emerges.

Weed Management: Getting soybeans off to a good start means planting into clean fields and keeping them weed free until canopy closure. For no-tillers that may mean applying a residual in the fall to knock winter annuals. Or it could mean a spring burndown before planting or using tillage to knock out that first crop of winter and spring weeds before planting. During the planting window, applying a residual herbicide will terminate weeds as they germinate. Also consider a post-emerge program that is applied when weeds are small (less than 4” in height) and includes another overlapping residual.

Considering these five factors will help you get your soybeans off to a good start and improve yield potential this season. For further discussion, feel free to contact us directly.


Dan Davidson is a PhD agronomist, part-time farmer and soybean expert from Nebraska who consults with soybean checkoff and industry on crop production, marketing, and product development projects.

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