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Bin-Busting Beans

March 8, 2014
By: Rhonda Brooks, Farm Journal Seeds & Production Editor
harvest soybeans crops

Zero in on practices that add more bushels

Soybean yields flat-lined in much of the U.S. during the past dec­ade as farmers focused their time and resources on growing corn. With soybean prices more favorable this year, however, farmers are looking to resuscitate soybean performance and get that trend line moving upward again. 

A good way to start the process is to understand the various components that drive soybean yield, explains Missy Bauer, Farm Journal Associate Field Agronomist.

"You have to understand how the bean plant works—when it sets yield potential and what can alter yield potential," she says. "You can then use that knowledge to refine your entire production system."

Right time for yield. Soybeans are developed in two stages: vegetative and reproductive. Soybeans are known for their ability to withstand high levels of stress in the vegetative stages and still produce a decent crop if they get adequate rain and nutrition in the reproductive stages. FJ 030 F14150

Most likely, that’s because the three main soybean yield components—total number of pods per plant, number of beans in the pod and bean weight at maturity—reach their full development during the reproductive stages.

Bauer says farmers saw that fact play out in south-central Michigan during the tough growing conditions of 2012. "The drought conditions had allowed spider mite infestations to increase, and by the end of July, everyone here wanted to give up on their bean crop," she recalls. "But then we had good rains starting in August, so the plants were able to put on a lot of pods and fill them."

The result was the farmers who sprayed for spider mites ended up seeing good yields, she adds.

That was Scott Simington’s experience. He recalls that his soybeans perked up after catching an initial rain on Aug. 15. A couple of more timely rains fell, and by harvest, he says the puny knee-high crop had turned into a yield powerhouse. 

"That made me a believer in using management practices that can help my crop," says Simington, who farms near Union City, Mich.

Simington ended up with a 52-bu. per acre average yield across his farm in 2012. By comparison, the Michigan state yield average was only 39 bu. per acre that year, according to figures from USDA–National Agricultural Statistics Service. 

Increase pod numbers. A variety of agronomic practices can impact soybean yield components, for better or worse, during the growing season. Some of the key influencers include variety selection; planting date; row spacing; planting practices; soil fertility; and weed, insect and disease control. 

Of the three yield components, Bauer says farmers do the best job today of influencing seed size, mainly through the strategic use of fungicides and insecticides when thresholds have been met. "Plot data has shown when controlling foliar diseases and/or insects, once thresholds have been exceeded, the resulting improvement in yield can often be attributed to an increase in seed size," Bauer says. "Protecting seed size can influence soybean yield as much as 10 bu. to 15 bu. per acre." 

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FEATURED IN: Farm Journal - March 2014
RELATED TOPICS: Soybeans, Soybean College

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