The past isn’t present for soybean farmers in the Pelican State. Louisiana soybean producers averaged
57 bu. per acre in 2014, ranking first in the U.S., in front of Illinois and Indiana with 56 bu. per acre each, and well above the national average of 47.8 bu. per acre. The days of bottom-dwelling soybean yields and poverty peas are a memory in Louisiana, replaced with three consecutive years of record yields.
“Planting time was a key factor in 2014’s yield success because we were able to get our crop in very early,” says Ron Levy, soybean specialist, Louisiana State University (LSU). 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 path to higher yields has been forged by widespread irrigation, advanced varieties, crop management, seed treatments and optimal ground. “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,” Levy says.
Louisiana soybean acreage has gone increasingly to irrigation, typically with polypipe every other row. Lack of irrigation has historically hindered production, notes 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,” he says. “Once we got irrigation, yields started to spike, and we started to be competitive.”
Group V soybeans produce the highest yields in Louisiana, but the majority of acres are Group IV. Group V involves more risk because of a later harvest and hurricane susceptibility.
Seed treatments have also been vital, 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 resistant weed and disease pressures farmers face in other soybean states.
“More producers are using seed treatments and seeing the benefits,” Levy adds. “When plants are young, tender and susceptible, a healthy start goes a long way.”
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.”