10 Tips to Better Beans

July 27, 2012 09:08 PM

Extension experts offer sound management advice

We asked six Extension soybean specialists what farmers can do to grow better soybeans in 2013. They responded with a variety of ideas:

Tillage. Make sure conditions are conducive to root growth. In many soils, no-till provides such conditions; if it doesn’t, some tillage might be needed. Soybean roots are reasonably competent in extracting water, but do what you can to help. Make good use of limited soil moisture. Build and improve soils for high yields. Include high-residue crops and cover crops in the rotation and use continuous no-till or conservation tillage where possible.

Soil test. Monitor soil potassium (K) and pH. Soybeans remove more K than corn harvested for grain. With intensive cropping, levels can quickly drop, resulting in patches of K-deficient beans. The pH often suffers on rented farms where an investment in lime is not in the cards.

Fertilize. Maintain or increase organic matter, since soybeans do not return as much carbon
to the soil as corn and some other crops. Don’t count on residual fertility from a corn crop to carry your soybean crop. Fertilizing soybeans directly can increase yield and protect them against nutrient deficiencies. Track nutrients over time to prevent any deterioration of fertility and accumulation of nutrients to levels that might damage the environment.

Variety selection. Choose varieties that have demonstrated the ability to produce top-end yields when conditions are good, but that are not prone to doing poorly if conditions don’t work out. Invest in high-yielding genetics with disease packages that fit your needs. Know your cost of production and calculate your return on investment for inputs.
Some of the largest yield differences are due to varieties. Use on-farm testing to select varieties that perform well under your management prac-tices. Precision ag offers many opportunities to evaluate foliar fertilizers, fungicides and other inputs to get a handle on your return on investment.

Planting. Pay attention to the fundamentals: seeding rates and planting dates. Keep planters in working order. It does not make sense to look at other production practices until your fundamentals are sound. One big issue is getting a good stand in high-residue, no-till conditions. Residue impacts are often complicated by slug damage. Some options are to switch to planters and use row cleaners when possible, use vertical tillage or harvest some stover in the fall or spring.

Emergence. Ensure rapid and uniform seedling emergence. Plant into good soil moisture, ensure good soil-to-seed contact, and plant at the right time, especially when double-cropping. The right depth and right spacing, including uniform spacing between plants within the row, is key.

Viability. Know how many seeds are producing plants. Soybeans are notoriously inconsistent—typical emergence rates range from less than 50% to nearly 100%. Carefully manage your steps with seed handling, soil moisture and planter adjustments to maximize stand establishment.

Inoculate. Inoculate on ground that has never been planted to soybeans and where soybeans have been out of the rotation for more than three to four years. Dig up plants after about 40 days of growth (V3 to V4) to see how many nodules are present.

Manage pests. Weed resistance to glyphosate continues to grow, but nematodes and insects are ever bigger issues. Foliar fungicides are becoming more prevalent, but don’t apply them where you don’t need them.

Scout. After emergence, scout fields regularly. This tells how the crop is progressing and gives you a heads-up on stresses. These can be abiotic (caused by nonliving things like heat, drought or nutrient deficiency) or biotic (caused by insects, weeds, disease organisms, even voles or slugs). Sometimes, you can take action to decrease the impact. If you are unable to combat the stress this growing season, knowing it occurred may help you prepare for next year. Take notes on what you see and consult them later to fix issues.
Early planting has been linked with higher yields but also with sudden death syndrome. Select varieties with good soybean cyst nematode tolerance. Early planted soybeans should have a fungicide seed treatment and possibly an insecticide treatment.

Thanks to the following Extension experts:

Shawn Conley, University of Wisconsin; David Holshouser, Virginia Tech; Emerson Nafziger, University of Illinois; Greg Roth, Penn State University; Kraig Roozeboom, Kansas State University; and Bill Weibold, University of Missouri.

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