With continuing improvements in plant genetics, biotechnology and farm management, producing high-yielding soybeans is more attainable than ever, according to one Ohio State University Extension expert. That is, if growers learn to master the basics of soybean production first.
"We've been pushing for two or three years now yield goals of 100-bushel beans and 300-bushel corn," says Harold Watters, assistant professor and coordinator of the university's Agronomic Crops Team.
Watters says that while producing such productive soybeans is possible, producers have a tendency to look for additional, or "alternative," management practices before having fully mastered the basic tenets of raising beans.
Those basics boil down to four key management practices: planting date, row width, seeding rate and weed control.
"We've forgotten some of those things," Watters says, "and it is evident this year."
For planting date, this year presented an obvious challenge because of a precipitation-driven late planting season almost across the entire state. Watters advises that to maximize yield potential, soybeans in Ohio should be planted by May 10, and a good canopy covering the ground by June 10.
Row width is one of his biggest criticisms of farmers' management practices this season.
"We need to collect all the sunlight we can, and in Ohio that means row spacing of 15 inches or less," he says. "Unfortunately, I've seen a lot of fields this year planted in 30-inch rows."
The wider rows mean fewer plants per acre, meaning a lower productive "machine" right from the start.
Additionally, seeding rate is a key area where farmers can improve management and profitability.
"In a lot of areas we still have 200,000 seeds or more per acre," Watters says. "In 15-inch rows we don't need that many seeds. Instead, 130,000 to 160,000 seeds per acre is enough to produce the plants, the pods and the seeds we need. Save that money."
He syas weed control is also particularly important in soybeans. That includes following Extension recommendations for herbicide application protocols — in no-till fields using a burndown application that includes 2,4D, for example.
With increasing reports of weed populations resistant to specific herbicides like glyphosate-resistant marestail, choosing and following the appropriate control strategy can have a significant impact on yield potential.
There are other best management practices farmers should consider, as well.
"Disease management for us in Ohio is a matter of choosing resistant varieties," Watters says. "And in Ohio, seed treatments are virtually mandatory."
His biggest recommendation to farmers is to understand the fundamentals before chasing the latest trend in yield-enhancement products or practices.
"If we can master the basics, we can improve the statewide average," Watters says. "Once we get those basics down, then we can start thinking of these other management practices to push yield. But we've got to get the basics down first."