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In Mississippi: Soybean planting off to fast start

As of April 14, soybean planting progress in Mississippi was further along than ever before on that date. The state's crop report listed Mississippi soybeans at 39 percent planted. Personally, I believe it was closer to 50 percent.

Concerns have surfaced regarding the earliness of the crop. Although there are a few exceptions, the early planting concept has been good to many Mississippi producers, and it is a practice that will continue to grow.

Earlier this week a caller told me he read I had said not to plant until after April 10. Nothing is further from the truth.

As I have visited growers over the last several weeks, I have attempted to match varieties to soil types and planting dates to help them make their planned deliveries. I voiced my concerns about early planting, but never have I discouraged anyone from planting early. Instead, I have just attempted to help make this system work.

Over the last several years (with a few exceptions), the earlier-planted portion of our crop has yielded the best. Last year, some of the highest-yielding soybeans were planted March 12-19.

There may be times that we might plant too early, but (based on my experience) if I have to err, I want to take my chances on the early side. Over the last three years plantings between March 7 and March 17 have done quite well. Some fields last year even encountered three different frosts.

You must use some common sense regarding early planting, and we may go too early at some point.

For this crop I have only two concerns. One, I do not believe we have to get in a hurry on irrigated acreage. Two, we need to be aware that the wide-row beans may not canopy. This is where the mid-April date came from. It is not because yields would be lower, it is to help get more growth in wider rows.

Are there concerns with early planting? Sure, there might be in some areas, but not from a yield standpoint. However, yield might be affected in wide-row beans that are allowed to grow up in late-season weeds due to lack of canopy closure. Narrow-row beans might produce higher yields, but yields from wide-row beans planted early will consistently be above average.

My only reason for delaying some planting is to achieve more growth.

It does not require a large plant to produce high yields. That is why matching row spacing, planting date, variety and soil type is so critical.

Over the last 10 years, we have seen Mississippi's average yield increase by approximately 10 bushels per acre. I am not as old as some, but I have been around long enough to remember the 1970s and 1980s. I and others are comfortable with this system — maybe more than others — because we have been working on it for several years.

Let me give a little history lesson regarding early planting. The first work was conducted in Texas approximately 20 years ago. Late February/March plantings of late Group 4s in south Texas produced above-average yields. Several individuals conducted the research, but it has taken a long time for us to get to this point.

Larry Heatherly has spent the last 18 years fine-tuning the system. A lot of the recent experience we have was provided by growers, not research plots. We know much more today than three years ago, but we still have more to learn.

Much of the concern about early planting is due to lack of experience. Every system has problems, but I had rather take my chances early than late.

Yield is not a concern, nor are soil temperatures. Frost is not as big a concern as many think, and in a couple of weeks many farmers will know far more than they did previously, particularly those with acreage north of Highway 82.

I remember a typical late summer in Mississippi — hot and little if any rainfall. Every year I heard folks say if we had just got a tropical depression to come through we would have made a good crop. They do not materialize in most years, particularly when and where you want them. The early-planting concept is a mechanism to avoid late summer weather, and it works.

If you had two options: to plant your soybeans early or after you finished planting cotton, I would tell you to go early every time. Not that this will avoid all problems, but it will allow you to capitalize on higher, more-consistent yields.

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

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