Top 5 Sustainable Soybean Production Practices
Yes, we love the ag technology at our fingertips today. But every now and then we need to go back to the basics. Max Glover, agronomy specialist with the University of Missouri Extension, hits on five sustainable management practices that are the foundation of creating a viable soybean yield.
#1 Improve Drainage and Water-Holding Capacity
Managing the water on a field and its availability to the crop is a basic production practice on which every grower should focus. It’s very rare for Mother Nature to provide the perfect rainfall scenario so water management is crucial to growers whether they receive too much rain or not enough.
“In-field practices tie to my second point of managing organic matter which starts with reducing tillage and can be beneficial for water-holding capacity,” said Glover. “When improving drainage, I encourage growers to set priorities not based on history but on economics considering long-term consequences,” he added.
Resources: Transforming Drainage and Soil Health Nexus
#2 Manage Organic Matter
Reducing tillage is a key consideration to managing organic matter along with adding plant growth. Growers can choose between leaving more residue during the growing season or adding a crop.
“Adding plant growth through use of a cover crop or double cropping can be a good investment,” Glover advised.
Double cropping often depends on the length of the growing season and water availability. Cover crops favor a shorter growing season and take some investment — their primary goal is to manage and raise organic matter to increase long-term yield stability — not just boost yield for the next growing season.
Resource: Midwest Cover Crops Council
#3 Manage Nutrients
Managing nutrients shouldn’t be a guessing game. In order to manage N, P, K (Nitrogen, Phosphorous, Potassium) and other macronutrients, soil test your fields then build a plan based on the results. Some growers test soils every year, however, Glover said Missouri Extension recommends testing a minimum of every 20 acres once every four years.
“Soil nutrients can be changed very rapidly but not necessarily brought into balance in one growing season,” Glover added. He advised if nutrients get too low, especially phosphorous and potassium, it can be difficult for a soybean field to remain productive.
“Rather than thinking about testing as a once-and-done process, try to decide on a sustainable plan,” Glover continued. “Also remember that as grain is taken off the field, we also take nutrients, so it’s important to be aware of nutrient removal and keep a handle on nutrient levels in your soil.”
#4 Minimize Compaction
A key to success with compaction is monitoring weather events, then managing farm work so heavy equipment isn't in the field when the soil is too wet.
“There can be some significant long-term negative outcomes of compaction on your fields, so it’s critically important to know when to stop fieldwork,” Glover cautioned. “Knowing when it’s too wet and the ruts are getting too deep can be a tough decision that everyone’s going to face at some point.”
Since soil types differ dramatically across regions, local sources such as experienced growers, soil conservation professionals and Extension professionals are good resources to learn best practices.
#5 Manage Pests
Integrated pest management continues to be as crucial as ever. Important steps include scouting, identifying pests, rotating crops, using multiple modes of action when needed and determining the economic threshold. Once decided, consider all available treatments if economically justified.
“Disease, weeds or insects can have a devasting impact on your soybean yield if left unmonitored,” added Glover. “It’s important to know what pests are moving into an area. Be sure to scout your fields regularly and keep in contact with professionals working to manage pests in your area. Plan ahead or you may end up with an expensive rescue treatment.”