How can producers get more out of their soybeans? Sure, they’re stubborn and tough, but unresponsive too.
Not so, argued Dr. Dave Hooker of the University of Guelph. Data show that from 2001 to 2010, Ontario’s average soybean yields were 37.6 bu/ac. From 2011 to 2020, that jumped to 46.4 bu/ac. That’s a 23 per cent yield boost.
Hooker and OMAFRA soybean specialist Horst Bohner were on hand at the Ontario Agricultural Conference with some tips on how to get the most out of your soybeans.
There’s six key components to getting the best yield out of soybeans.
- Stand establishment
Said Bohner: “70-plus bushels need to start with good stands.” But how to get them? Planting depth is the main factor and many producers believe you need to plant deeper. But the data disagree, said Bohner. The best yield results came from planting depths of 1.5 inches. The fields with the best stands had been planted at one inch. Planting that shallow, however, risks drying out the seed but “I’m comfortable with 1.5 inches,” he said.
- Planting date
Producers are always trying to push earlier planting dates, so long as fields are fit. And the idea that cold ground makes a field unfit is getting shakier. While cold weather likely does cause yield loss, Bohner argued the much bigger yield loss comes from late planting. Trial data showed beans planted May 22 yielding 66.3 bu/ac. That was the top yield but not far behind were the April 22 beans which yielded 64.1 bu/ac. Well behind were the June 10 planted beans at 50.8 bu/ac.
- Variety selection
Maturity group has been the byword for variety selection: pick the one that’s closest to your area’s optimum planting window. But data suggest that maturity groups are too broad to be useful. There can be as much as a four-day variation in the days-to-maturity (how long it takes the crop to mature) in one maturity group. And Hooker’s data suggesting a 0.7 bu/ac/day yield loss means a loss of $40/ac if you’re off by four days.”
- Residue management
Bohner said he’s done with no-till. While no-tilling does boost yields by a couple of bushels, it’s not equal to the quality-of-life gains from tillage, he said. “And you get a better plant stand, more level surface for combine to pick up beans. I’m over no-till.”
- Plan your P and K fertility
Phosphorus (P) and Potassium (K) can’t just get dumped on the plant during the growing season. The key to higher-bushel beans is having the fertilizer built up in the soil. Starter fertilizer is not the answer to a better yield in one year. You have to boost your nutrient levels over a few years. The data suggest going from low to moderate amounts of P and K in the soil can boost yields as much as 7 bu/ac.
- Crop rotation
“Corn is the enemy,” said Horst. “I feel good about saying that.” More seriously, adding wheat into the rotation is a big boost for beans: worth 4 to 6 bu/. There’s been some discussion of broadcasting wheat into soybeans to make that a bit easier but reports are mixed, the researchers noted. But the bottom line is if growers want better soybean yields, they should plant wheat. Bohner also noted foliar fungicides with manganese and potassium give a 2 to 3 bu/ac yield boost quite consistently. While that’s small, it’s reliable in a way that many efforts to boost productivity haven’t been. “It means we’re doing something fundamental and there’s opportunity to build.”