Steps to Improving Soybean Yield

Dan Davidson, Agronomist PhD, CCA

Improving your soybean yields might be easier than you think.

In my previous blog I stated that up to about 2010, to my best recollection, many growers thought soybean yields were stagnant, and I was one of them. On our own family farm in Northeast Nebraska from 2004 to 2008 (five seasons), we did not grow soybeans. Why settle for 35- to 38-bushel beans when we could harvest 150-bushel corn? So we just grew corn. I must admit that our no-till soybean production system at that time included Roundup Ready beans, planted in 15-inch rows at a population of 160,000, naked seed and two passes of Roundup, burndown and a single post. Probably sounds eerily familiar and no wonder soybeans yields were considered stagnant. The adage was true – do nothing, get nothing.

But in 2009 I decided to take a chance. In my job at that time I talked to a lot of farmers who were doing interesting things with both corn and soybeans, so I decided to give it a go and do something different. We treated the seed, including adding an inoculant, added a starter at planting, and foliar fed the soybeans twice, once with a fungicide. The foliar feed was a concoction of “stuff” from a company that no longer exists today. And on top of that we planted on the late side after mid-May. It was a 30-acre field and we left the middle 10 acres as a check. And the field was out of soybeans for five years, so that had to help bean yield as well.

If you recall the 2009 season was cool and wet and crops matured slowly. We did not harvest soybeans till November and wet corn was harvested in December (and one field in March). While soybeans yields were good that year, 48 bushels was the yield of the check; the other two 10-acre blocks averaged 73-bushel and the yield monitor broke 85 bushel on some acres. There was a 25-bushel difference between the check and treated blocks. What that taught me was that we can produce high yield soybeans if we manage them and apply the best technology.

That was nine years ago. How things have changed in the past decade. What the Davidsons did before 2009 was common practice. What we first did in 2009 is now common practice today. And the recent yields many of us have experienced are due to adopting better management practices and paying attention to detail.

At a recent soybean agronomy roundtable in Bloomington, Ill. (I called it a think tank session), a group of agronomists concluded that the three easiest things growers now should be doing to increase yield include:

  • Plant early
  • Use seed treatments
  • Reduce seed population

Soybeans should be planted as early as corn and in April. The truth, as we know it today, is that treated soybean seed is more tolerant to cold and wet soil conditions than corn seed. Treated soybean is a must, not only for early planting but always to protect that expensive seed investment. And lastly, reduce your seeding population to 120,000. It only takes 100,000 plants to maximize yield at harvest, and for every 20,000 you drop population, you are saving about $10 per acre in seed cost based on the price of treated seed.

You can easily increase soybean yield and profitability today by adopting these practices.

Fortalis® is an essential crop input

You can also benefit from Fortalis®, an advanced crop enhancement foliar spray that works by mobilizing calcium already existing within plant tissues, resulting in higher pod retention. When applied as a tank mix, Fortalis® with a fungicide or insecticide contributes to better plant health and higher yield potential. It’s an essential crop input that you need to get the most out of your crop.

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

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