Soybean Seed: Lower Supply and Quality

Poor growing conditions in 2018 will affect 2019 crop ( Darrell Smith )

Soybean growing states were pummeled with challenges this past year. Late planting, too much or too little rain, followed by a phenomenally late harvest meant even soybeans grown for seed endured less-than-ideal conditions.

“The entire industry is facing less than optimum germination scores on soybean products grown in the Midwest during the 2018 season,” Bayer said in an email to Farm Journal.

Before planters hit the soil, make sure you have a good understanding of what happened to soybeans last season, what that means for seed quality and availability and what you can do to mitigate your risks.

“Anytime you have beans ready, and you get rain, you reload moisture in the pods and seeds, then they shrink back. It’s that swell and shrink that reduces seed quality,” says Jim Herr, Beck’s Hybrids processing, inventory and wholesale manager.

Geographically, weather damage hit from Tennessee to Minnesota, across many of the major soybean-growing states.

“Up north in the zero and one maturities we have quality issues in the industry because it got so hot and dry during seed fill, leading to below 80% germination and low vigor,” says Monty Malone, BASF soybean product manager. “Two and three maturities had too much rain post maturity, but yields were good. South had low quality and low yields. The east, like North Carolina, the late five, six and seven maturities got two hurricanes and more than 40" of rain after soybeans hit maturity.”

The pile of ‘good’ seed to sell is being quickly whittled to a fraction of what’s available in a normal year. And the biggest issue diminishing supply is the potential for lower-than-normal germination scores.

“There are a lot of soybeans in the market that are probably going to be sold under 80% germination, but we don’t allow anything under 80%,” says Mike Kavanaugh, AgriGold agronomy manager. “Typically, we shoot for 85% to 90% in soybeans.”

In corn, the industry standard for minimum germination score is 95%. In a typical year you’ll see most soybeans sold between 85% and 90% germination rates. With the chance for lower than 80% germination scores, ask your agronomist what that means for planting.

“Iowa State University research 10 years ago documented how soybean plants can compensate for a lower population, so the plant will likely make up for any small germination differences,” says Scott Erickson, Syngenta soybean product manager.

You might be able to improve early season vigor, which could help reduce the burden of lower germination scores.

“This is one of those years that seed treatment is going to be paramount in some situations,” Malone says. “Make sure you have a broad-spectrum fungicide. It can help with vigor, depending on the source of reduced quality, but it won’t help with mechanical damage.”

You don’t see a lot of seed sold with mechanical damage because high-tech seed sorting machines kick them out before bagging. Fungal issues can be nipped in the bud with treatment.

Finally, reflect on recent years to set up soybeans for success.

“What happened in specific fields?” says Ryan Meyer, Pioneer U.S. corn category lead. “If you have heavier disease loads you don’t want to come back in with a product susceptible to that disease.”

Genetics still play a key role in keeping soybeans strong throughout the season. Because supplies in certain varieties might be tight, make sure you’re having conversations with seed dealers now to place the right product on the right field—even if it wasn’t your first choice.

To learn how corn seed quality and supplies are shaping up for the year, visit