Achieving Higher Soybean Yields

A few weeks ago, I talked about what I would include on my list for New Year’s Resolutions if I were a full-time farmer wanting to raise 300-bushel corn. This week I want share what tops my list for “increasing bushels per acre” specifically for soybeans.

Following are keys to achieving higher yields in soybeans:

  1. Variety Selection: In my opinion, this is THE most important factor to achieving higher soybean yields.  Farmers need to manage a number of stress factors: disease, insects, Soybean Cyst Nematodes, etc. Fortunately, many of these stress factors can be managed through careful variety selection. I include insects because even the Soybean Aphid can now be managed with Aphid-Resistant soybean cultivars. In the past, too many decisions have been based on cost per bag and the size of the seed in the bag. Those two factors won’t add a single bushel to your overall yield. Getting to know your local Latham Sales Representative coupled with the Latham Seed-2-Soil program will help farmers determine the best varieties to place in their fields giving them the best possible chance to achieve high yield goals.
  2. Early planting: Soybeans are a light-sensitive crop, so yields are strongly influenced by the amount of solar radiation the crop receives throughout the growing season. It stands to reason that the earlier-planted crop will have more potential for yield since it will have greater access to sunlight. However, there are risks associated with early planting. Farmers must be careful to protect early-planted soybeans from seedling diseases and insects. We recommend the use of seed treatments containing either a fungicide or a fungicide-insecticide combination. Our SoyShield™ brand seed treatments are an excellent choice to help with this.
  3. Weed Management: Soybeans are very sensitive to early season competition from grass and broadleaf weeds. Using a weed control program that includes a pre-emergence herbicide and a post-applied product will reduce the stress from weed pressure and allow for early canopy closure. An early complete canopy is important to intercept as much sunlight as possible throughout the growing season.
  4. Narrow Row Spacing: Again, getting back to the theory that enhanced yields are tied directly to the amount of light that can be intercepted by the soybean crop, then narrow row spacings will help greatly in closing the canopy and allowing for increased light interception. I strongly recommend that farmers take a look at row spacings in the 15 – 20 inch range. Over many years of field observations, this seems to be the range that affords the greatest amount of yield potential while also mitigating risks associated with drilled soybeans in the 7 – 10 inch range.
  5. Soil Fertility: When striving for higher yields, soybean farmers need to ensure they have the available soil nutrients to achieve those yields or else all their careful planning and cultural practices will be for naught. Again, the Latham Seed-2-Soil program is invaluable in helping farmers achieve these goals. Soil sampling, field mapping and nutrient recommendations are just three of the many benefits members of this exclusive club can take advantage of.
  6. Soybean Cyst Nematode: SCN is the number one pest of soybean fields in the United States.  You really can’t even begin to think about raising 80 bu/A or even 60 bu/A soybeans until you know exactly where your SCN populations are in each field.  Nematodes tend to cause the most damage in drier years where soil moisture is lacking and plants are already under severe stress. We haven’t had one of these years lately, and my fear is that many farmers will forget about managing their fields for SCN. Here again, soil sampling and careful variety selection are critical.
  7. Crop Rotation: Many will argue this comment, but in my opinion, the corn-soybean crop rotation is still the most profitable practice for farmers over time. The long-term benefits of this rotation far outweigh the short-term successes of corn-on-corn or even beans-on-beans.
  8. Scouting: Scouting your fields at least once a week is crucial. There will be times during the year when once a week isn’t often enough, and you might find yourself scouting fields every other day! Our Latham Seed-2-Soil experts can help in this aspect by giving advice on scouting techniques and procedures.
  9. Inoculants: If soybeans haven’t been grown in a field for 4 or 5 years or if the soil is sandy, then inoculating the soybean seed should be seriously considered. Most fields in the Upper Midwest won’t require inoculants if they have been part of a corn-soybean rotation. Here again, scouting your fields and digging up plants to assure proper nodulation is crucial for achieving top-end yields.