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When Less Is More

July 28, 2012
By: Rhonda Brooks, Farm Journal Seeds & Production Editor
When Less Is More
A quest to find the maximum yield sweet spot for each soybean field led Ben Moore to reduce his seeding rate in some fields by 10%. Through his experiment, yields were maintained or even improved.  

Reduced soybean seeding rates can boost profit

Less soybean seed at planting can add up to more bushels in the bin at harvest. That equation sounds fictional, but agronomic research and real-farm experience have proven it as fact to Ben Moore.

To date, the northeast Indiana farmer has cut his soybean seeding rate by as much as 10%, depending on the field. He says overall yield results are at least as good as before, if not better.

"We’ve learned that we were putting more seed on than what we needed to," explains Moore, who farms 2,000 acres of dryland soybeans on heavy clay soils with his uncle, Steve, near

Woodburn, Ind. In addition to soybeans, the Moores grow corn and wheat and own a wean-to-finish hog operation.

Too much at stake. The Moores began tinkering with their soybean seeding rate three years ago.

"The increase in soybean prices got us looking at this," Ben says. "You can spend a lot more time and effort on soybeans when the price is $13 a bushel versus $6."

Along with the surge in prices, Moore says, the simultaneous increase in soybean seed costs also contributed to his decision to fine-tune his planting rate.

"Managing inputs effectively is just as important to profitability as price," he says.

This year, Moore planted between 150,000 and 165,000 seeds per acre in 20" rows. His goal was to achieve a final stand count of 127,500 to 140,000 plants per acre. University research indicates he might still have room to reduce seeding rates and achieve an optimum plant stand.

"Our small plot research has demonstrated that harvest stands near 100,000 to 120,000 plants per acre optimize yield," says Shaun Casteel, a Purdue University Extension specialist. "In other words, soybean yields do not effectively increase with plant stands above 120,000 plants at harvest."

Just 100,000 uniform soybean plants per acre at harvest is often enough to maximize economic return, adds Palle Pedersen, seed care technology manager for Syngenta.

"For maximum yield, the stand count at harvest is most important," he says.

In general, Moore says, his fields with higher soil organic matter and fertility are able to handle a higher seeding rate range. Fields with less natural fertility, what Moore calls his "tough ground," are planted with seeding rates in the lower range.

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FEATURED IN: Farm Journal - Seed Guide 2012

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