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Serving: Central

Management guidelines: Early season soybeans boost yields

Weather conditions are quite unpredictable this time of year, but sufficient time has been available to apply burndown herbicides. Early burndowns are a tremendous benefit when considering early soybean planting.

It has been a difficult year as far as variety selection is concerned. As planting time approaches do everything in your power to minimize replants. It is most certain (with many varieties in limited supply) you will not be able to replace your first plantings with the same varieties.

A couple of points to remember:

  1. Use a broad spectrum seed treatment. Make sure whatever you use, your program centers around a pythium material.

  2. Plant your highest vigor seed first. As conditions improve (as it gets later) plant lower quality seed.

  3. Plant for a rain.

  4. Accurately set planters. The recent increase in seed cost has made it imperative to fine-tune seeding rates.

There is some research showing benefits from higher populations when using ultra early maturity groups or for quick canopy in some weed control trials. Although the benefit of higher populations in these areas is well documented, I expect these options to take a backseat given the cost of planting seed.

Some acreage has already been planted and success over the last few years has helped producers gain more experience and confidence. I recognize what optimum conditions are, but the early system has been tested extensively in Texas, Arkansas and Mississippi for several years.

This system was not developed in Mississippi. The earliest work was conducted over 20 years ago in south Texas. However, numerous researchers and producers across the Mid-South have spent years fine-tuning the system.

Use common sense as you attempt to plant early. Seek good information, and if you are reluctant, start small and see what works for your locale. This system has a wide use window. Acreage across the entire Mid-South and along the East Coast is a candidate, but expansion will be based on the willingness of growers to try something different.

We have the luxury of an extremely long growing season and early planting should be an integral part.

Last spring was an exception as far as early plantings are concerned, but it let many farmers become very comfortable with the system. Years ago it seemed destined that the South would plant full season varieties (determinates) and the northern areas would plant indeterminate varieties. It was what we knew to do at the time.

Researchers tried using other maturity groups, but were told it would not work. I wish they had persevered, because it has taken almost 30 years to learn they were correct.

I cannot tell you how far south this system can be utilized, but research conducted over 20 years ago in south Texas with some of the older indeterminate varieties planted in late February is where it all began. Much of the reluctance to use the system stems from inexperience and lack of local research. That is understandable, but that's what kept this concept from being evaluated years ago.

The number one reason to focus on this system is yield potential. Even if you experience problems, yield potential usually is greater than that of late May-June plantings.

In our statewide verification program, which encompasses 13 years and 167 dryland fields, non-irrigated yields have averaged over 40 bushels per acre for those who utilized early planting and early maturing varieties and applied timely inputs.

You may have extenuating circumstances that prohibit you from using this system. Early does not necessarily mean Group 4s, you can plant Group 5s early, and yields will be higher.

Early planting is nothing but an avoidance mechanism for late summer drought. Increased late season management may be needed to improve yields (late season fungicides, late season insect control, timely use of a desiccant, etc). Timing is everything, particularly at harvest.

Alan Blaine is the Mississippi Extension soybean specialist. e-mail:

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