Strategies to Improve Soybean Yield

And here we go again, time to make your 2019 soybean production plans and develop strategies to improve soybean yield.

The season is over, the soybean crop is out, and, if you are like most producers, yields were higher than normal and probably exceeded expectations. Not all seasons are like that, however, and probably only 1 out of every 5 years will the crop perform very well despite what strategies growers deploy.

For the remaining 4 out of 5 years, you must think about strategies to improve yield. Just remember the weather is rarely your best friend like in 2018. So, what should you be evaluating in 2019?

Seed Selection: Selecting the right variety is always the number one decision and represents the best yield potential. Make sure the varieties you select have sustainable yield performance across environments and know on what soils these varieties excel. You probably know which of your fields are offensive in nature and which are defensive. Consider this when selecting varieties and if they come with a relevant defensive or offensive agronomic package to match the field and soil type.

Seed Treatments: By now you probably buying seed that is already treated by the company or dealer. Seed treatments pay and are a good risk management tool because yield is related to final stand and consistency. If you are one of the many farmers planting early, and at the same time as corn, the seed might not emerge as quickly and needs protection. But don’t take it for granted that just because your seed is treated, it is adequately protected.

Today you probably need 3 or even 4 different fungicide active ingredients in your seed treatment to protect against soil-borne pathogen so make sure you ask so you know your seed is protected. Today you can add a range of biologicals to the seed to protect the seed, stimulate the seedling, and even help grow the microbial community. Just remember that the soybean seed has only so much real estate and the surface so choose widely so you don’t impact germination and vigor. One company that specializes in seed treatments is Incotec, also a part of Croda, Inc.

Planting Date: The evidence is in: planting early pays. The reason is more nodes get added on the flowering plant with early planting. Since high yield fields need as many nodes a possible to produce more seeds, and planting early is the only practical way to do this, we are being advised to plant soybeans at the same time as corn.

Remember more nodes usually equates to more pods and yield at harvest. As with all strategies, however, there is some risk to planting early so use a good seed treatment and plant in good soil conditions. The seed has the inherent ability to lay idle in the soil, if protected, until good germination and emergence conditions exist.

Fertility: We know that fertility relates to yield. The higher the yield, the more nutrients we need to replace. Standard advice is to know where your soil’s nutrient levels and strive to get soil test levels in at the least the moderate range. Fertilize soybeans separately from corn and don’t let the crop scavenge for leftovers. Tissue test to make sure the crop is not wanting for any nutrients and consider applying a foliar at around flowering with zinc, manganese, and boron so that the supply in the plant is bioavailable.

Plant Health: Always focus on plant health from stand establishment through pod fill. We already know seed treatments are the initial line of offence to achieve a robust and healthy plant stand. But we also want to protect pods throughout pod fill. Consider adding in nutrients, stimulants, and products like Fortalis to ensure the plant will flourish until pod fill is over.

The first line of defense is applying a foliar fungicide at R3. Of course, this decision should be made based on risk based on variety defensive packages, field history, and weather conditions. Apply an insecticide to protect foliage if there is the presence of pests and if they are approaching the control threshold. There is no point applying an insecticide if the application is going to lose you money.

Lastly and most recent advance, you may consider applying a second foliar fungicide application at R4.5 to fully protect the foliage, extend plant health through to the beginning of R7.

You may have been very satisfied with your soybean yields in 2018, but don’t rest on your laurels. Think about what you did, what worked, what your missed, and form a stronger strategy for 2019.


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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