The past isn’t present for soybean growers in the pelican state. Louisiana soybean producers averaged 57 bu. per acre in 2014, the highest rate in the United States, just in front of Illinois and Indiana with 56 bu. per acre each, and well above the national average of 47.8. The days of bottom-dwelling soybean yields and poverty peas are a memory in Louisiana, replaced with three consecutive record yield years leading to 2014.
“Planting time was a key factor in 2014 yield success because we were able to get our crop in very early,” explains Ron Levy, soybean specialist, Louisiana State University. Soybeans are highly sensitive to hot temperatures – day and night. At night, soybeans respirate and cool using energy that would otherwise go to growth and yield. When soybeans mature early, before hot temperatures set in, yields are typically larger.
Growing conditions were ideal in 2014, but the overall path to high yields has been forged by widespread irrigation, advanced varieties, crop management, seed treatments and optimal ground. “Farmers like to plant anywhere from early to mid-April and that translates to good production and higher yield potential. We don’t have any contests, but we’ve had growers hit 100 bu. per acre beans in many fields, and a whole lot more in the 80s and 90s.”
Louisiana soybean acreage has gone increasingly to irrigation, typically with polypipe every other row. Lack of irrigation has historically hindered production, according to Josh Lofton, LSU AgCenter agronomist, Macon Ridge Research Station, Winnsboro, La. “The northeast part of the state has relatively new soybean ground, but it is high-yielding acreage. Once we got irrigation, yields started to spike and we started to get competitive. Last year was a right place, right time scenario. Growers planted at optimal times and in perfect conditions. Cool conditions during flowering, good podset, good dry-down, and excellent harvest conditions in August.”
The highest Louisiana yields are found in Group V soybeans, but the majority of state acreage is Group IV. Group V involves more risk because of later harvest conditions and hurricane susceptibility. Group IV is prevalent in the northern and central state regions, but is also gaining acreage in the southern section of the state. Variety options have exploded for Louisiana growers, and last year LSU tested 189 varieties in soybean research trials with tremendous yield results in a large portion. Ten years back, Levy says five to nine varieties performed best, but that’s drastically changed: “Those numbers are out the window.”
Seed treatments have been vital to growers – particularly in a state with heavy insect and disease pressure. Insects don’t face heavy winter-kill, and populations can be significant early in the season, costing major money to fight. Louisiana’s humid and warm conditions multiply the standard problems faced in other soybean states concerning resistant weeds and disease pressure. “We see more and more producers using seed treatments and they’re seeing the benefits. When those plants are young, tender and susceptible, getting them off to a healthy start goes such a long way for good production,” Levy notes.
Louisiana planted 1.4 million acres of soybeans in 2014, and this year the number is up slightly. “Growers are putting soybeans on clean, prime ground,” Lofton states. “Knocking soybeans out of the park offers a better economic return than low corn or cotton. It’s great to see our growers producing fantastic soybeans.”
Soybeans can be a notoriously tricky crop and rapidly bleed yield. Stinkbug pressure can destroy a crop in few days; alternaria can hit at the wrong time; or irrigation breakdowns can ruin a crop. “Essentially, soybean growers can do everything right all year and hit a single problem at the end that turns a perfect crop into a near-disaster,” Lofton says. “We know we can keep competing because farmers are managing soybeans like a primary crop. It was certainly a great surprise to be No. 1 in 2014.”