Avoid Soybean Production Pitfalls

"Look for not only the stand-out winners but the losers, too. If you plant a dog, you’re going to harvest puppies." ( Lindsey Benne )

While frigid temperatures might make spring planting in the Midwest seem far away it will be here before you know it. Because this year promises to bring more financial challenges, make sure you’re making smart choices to maximize output and profit on every acre.

Because of trade uncertainty, excess supply and other factors, soybeans look to be especially challenging this year. Expect a 5% to 8% reduction in national soybean acres, with most of them coming from less traditional soybean-growing states, says Shawn Conley, Extension soybean agronomist at University of Wisconsin.

“There is going to be a lot of pressure [for farmers] to buy cheap seed to cut costs,” Conley says. “Remember when you cut costs too much you cut profitability.”

The single most important decision you make each year is variety, he adds. That sets up the crop’s yield potential and weaknesses from the get-go, and the right or wrong choice will make or break your year.

Consider on-farm trials, but don’t put all of your eggs in one basket, Conley says. “Weather changes. Look at your data and data from those near you and regionally.”

Look for not only the stand-out winners but the losers, too. “If you plant a dog, you’re going to harvest puppies,” Conley explains.

Low-quality soybeans mean you need to make smart seed and seed treatment decisions. “Pay attention to seed tags and germination percent,” Conley says. “If you’re considering cutting seeding rates [to save costs] be cautious when germination is 85% or less.”

Furthermore, widespread phomopsis means seeds, even the ones that do germinate, are fighting against seed-borne fungi. “There are years when you can’t get away with cutting seed treatments,” Conley says. “This is one of them.”

Research the active ingredients in your seed treatment, and ask an agronomist if it will protect the seed from phomopsis. If it doesn’t, look into an option that does. A seed treatment, even on lesser quality seed, can boost germination 8% to 12%.

When it comes to  breeding advancements and nutrient uptake, breeders are making soybeans more efficient. Even so, it’s still important to pay attention to nutrients.

  • Soybeans flower a week earlier than previous varieties thanks to breeding advancements.
  • Soybeans now spend more time in the reproductive stages.
  • Don’t give yourself a nitrogen credit for soybeans—90% of the nitrogen is harvested with the seed.
  • The only two situations when you should add nitrogen to soybeans is in irrigated fields or when dropping more than 175,000 seeds.
  • Be mindful of potassium in soybeans; it might need adjusted.

In addition, over time breeding has made soybeans bushier, which is beneficial because the rows close earlier, allowing lower populations and more pods on plants.

“Today’s soybean varieties put on three times the amount of yield in branches than they used to,” Conley explains. “This cuts the penalty for low populations in half.”

As a result, even in less-than-optimal planting and early season conditions, soybeans can compensate. Conley says the optimal seed drop in normal soil conditions is 100,000 bu. per acre (more in lower quality soil). Furthermore, you shouldn’t replant any stand count between 100,000 and 50,000—it usually only provides about a 2 bu. advantage.