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Corn+Soybean Digest

Double-Crop Bounty

Double cropping soybeans after a small grain crop usually spells a smaller yield. But Matt Gard has no beef with his bean production. He produces 60-70 bu. beans after rye grazed-out by stocker cattle.

Gard grows a variety of crops in northwestern Oklahoma, near Fairview. And like soybean producers everywhere, he works to get the best production possible, even when growing them after wheat or, in his case, rye. He doesn't worry about having enough days for the crop to mature. But he does battle warm summer evenings and drought.

Growers in Mississippi and other southern states face greater potential for weak yields when planting after wheat harvest. And in the Midwest, the farther north you go, the greater threat for minimal yields for double-cropped soybeans, says Tony Vyn, agronomist at Indiana's Purdue University. Relay cropping, or planting soybeans into standing wheat, can help alleviate that problem, he says.

For Gard, soybeans became a bigger crop after he got away from continuous corn production in the late 1990s. Double cropping beans after the rye forage crop made good sense in his efforts to obtain a better return per acre.

In this program, he plants no-till rye on land in the fall just after soybean or corn harvest. It's strictly for grazing.

“We plant rye over wheat for grazing because it's a tougher crop that can handle the winter better. You can hardly kill the stuff,” he says, noting that he leases grazing rights to others with cattle at about $90/acre, depending on the cattle market.

Cattle are grazed through mid-April, at which time the rye is terminated with Roundup. He then runs a ripper plow to break up compaction caused by the cattle. The ground is ripped from 12 to 18 in. deep, “or as deep as we can running 5½ mph,” says Gard. “We have to break up the compaction so that soybean or corn roots can grow.”

He then plants Roundup Ready soybeans, usually Garst varieties, at a rate of 220,000 seeds/acre. “We use a 40-ft. no-till air drill for planting,” he says. “In 2004 we planted in 15-in. rows to cover more acres faster.”

He pushed for 90% germination on group 3½ and 4½, non-determinant varieties. “That gives us a stand count of 185,000,” he says.

That crop is under center-pivot irrigation. For the cost of around $2/acre with about 15 in. of water applied, beans yield 60 bu. or more. Dryland beans are planted in pivot corners. Yields depend on summer rainfall and the amount of hot summer nights. “We sometimes stay in the high 80s or 90s (degrees Fahrenheit) on summer nights,”he says.

Some soybean fields are fertilized through the pivots in water blended with affluent from nearby hog operations. “Our ‘pig circle’ yields about 70 bu.,” says Gard, who works with a Crop Quest consultant to help manage his production.

“We're pleased with our double-crop yields,” he adds, noting that newer bean fields receive a double inoculant (Celltech).

Alan Blaine, Mississippi State University agronomist, says Midsouth soybean production is best when planting is done in late April or early May.

“Research has clearly shown that soybean yields decline rapidly when planted after mid-June,” he says, when wheat is normally harvested. “One way to plant soybeans earlier is to harvest wheat at 16-20% moisture. This requires artificial drying, an added expense, but it may allow planting soybeans 5-7 days earlier.”

Purdue's Vyn says “relaying” crops can help growers cut some time off a typical double-crop system. Soybeans are planted into standing wheat before the wheat is harvested. “The word relay alludes to the fact that the life cycles of the two crops overlap, but are not in synchrony,” says Vyn. “As soybeans are planted and emerging, wheat enters its reproductive stages.”

He adds, “This system allows producers to spread production risk and fixed costs of land and equipment over two crops. While neither crop will generate more income than it would when grown by itself, together they may be able to produce more. Thus, it may be possible for farmers in more northerly areas to enjoy the economic benefits of double cropping.”

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