By Connor Lynch
OMAFRA’s soybean specialist Horst Bohner has been touring the province to dish out his top 10 tips for getting better yields in soybeans.
1. Seed treatments are effective.
Neonicotinoid restrictions were one of the biggest hurdles to hit grain farmers in recent memory. Bohner wants farmers to not throw their hands up in the air and forget the whole business. “The whole neonic story, that’s just one hiccup in the big scheme of things. In a few years we won’t even be talking about it.”
Treated seeds are still effective. And when it comes to using them, the best bang for your buck is getting specific. General application works, but the most cost-efficient method is targeting fields. “Apply what you need, where you need it. It pays big dividends,” said Bohner.
2. Row width matters.
Disease control gets easier with wider rows but that hurts yields, and means costly investment in fertilizers and inputs just to get yields back up to where they were. The takeaway, said Bohner, is that farmers still need to make a conscious choice when they’re picking row width. His data showed 15-inch rows get higher yields but white mould becomes more of a problem.
3. Seeding rates should be field specific.
Bohner said that he’s talked to farmers who seed as low as 130,000 seeds per acre on some of their fields.
“That’s absolutely the right decision.” He’s also talked to farmers who seed over 300,000 seeds per acre on some of their fields.
“That’s also absolutely the right decision.” Know your field, said Bohner. “In a low-yielding environment, we up the seeding rate. Where the yield potential is very high, we really lower the seeding rate. There is a fair bit of flexibility, but you have to know your equipment and field.”
4. Variety selection is key.
But what variety to select? There’s well over 200 new varieties developed in the province every year.
Generally speaking, “new genetics are yielding more,” and farmers looking to push up soybean yields have to be willing to experiment with different varieties. Three per year is Bohner’s recommendation.
5. Foliar feeding results are mixed.
Farmers who were hoping for some clear answers on how worthwhile foliar feedings will largely come away disappointed. Yield responses happen, said Bohner, but getting a consistent yield response with foliar feeding is at best tricky.
“Lots to learn on that front yet.”
The only standout example is manganese. Soybeans with a manganese deficiency (often in clay soils, such as in Lambton County) respond well to an early manganese spray, sometimes increasing yields by as much as eight bushels an acre.
6. Good fertility is important.
Nutrients are key to growing soybeans, but patience is the key to improving yields with nutrients, said Bohner. “Simply throwing on fertilizer, the year of, will not get you the result you want.”
One of the easiest ways to improve soybean yields is getting nutrient levels in the soil up, and maintaining them.
“I’m not saying we have to grow with unrealistic and very high application rates. Consistently building that soil and maintaining it seems to be the best way to get the highest yields.”
7. Rolling after emergence is an option.
There’s been this notion, said Bohner, that rolling over a field of soybeans enrages them and they grow aggressively in response. That’s likely not true. Even if it is, rolling soybeans doesn’t produce much of a yield benefit, perhaps an extra bushel an acre, he said.
But rolling a field as late as after the first trifoliate is still worth considering to push down rocks and level out fields. Rolling before seeding means the planter takes up rocks; rolling right after seeding means the soil can crust over and that makes it hard for beans to push up. Wait for a hot afternoon when the plants are heat stressed, and roll the field.
“They all stand up again. It does work.”
8. Fungicides: Don’t spray everything.
This is less of a tip for soybean growers and more of an interesting area to watch for.
Bohner said that research done spraying fungicides on fields that have no fungus and are not in conditions that seem suitable for fungus are getting yield responses.
Don’t spray all of your fields with fungicides; it’s not cost effective, said Bohner. But “as an industry, if there are relatively large yield gains (available)
we need to understand when and where they take place so we can take advantage of it.”
9. Early planting = 4-plus bushels per acre.
Variety selection is key here. Typically, said Bohner, the instinct is to wait when planting beans. Corn handles the cold better, so farmers were typically waiting until the end of May to plant soybeans.
But planting a long-season bean as early as late April means four extra bushels per acre on average.
Short-season beans will end their growing season too early and miss out on August and September rains, said Bohner.
10. Residue must be managed.
“Soybeans are very adaptive and you can grow (them) successfully in any system. But simply ignoring corn residue; you’re setting yourself up for more difficulty than you need to.”
There are various options for dealing with residue, and pros and cons associated with each, said Bohner. The easiest way is no-till, he said, but any method of dealing with it has its own drawbacks. “But from a soybean plant perspective, heavy corn residue is an issue and you need to be aware of that.”