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Second thoughts on risks: Were soybeans planted too early?

When it came to the Delta, the woodchuck's shadow failed him. The prognosticating varmint didn't call for a warm, dry February and March. And, thus far, April has been more of the same. Planters continue to zip across Mid-South fields, depositing seed with fervor.

While early planting isn't necessarily a bad thing, it does carry risk. And the earlier planting occurs, the more potential for problems.

“You can take a good thing to an extreme,” says Alan Blaine, Mississippi Extension soybean specialist. “In planting so early, we may have done that. I seriously question a couple of things that are going on.

“First, I wonder why producers are in such a hurry to plant the irrigated crop. The earlier we go, the less growth we'll get out of the crop.

“Second, we've got a bunch of bean acres planted wide row. I suspect that's because, at the last moment and with such favorable planting conditions, growers have switched cotton or corn acres to beans. That portion of our crop probably won't canopy.”

David Lanclos has similar concerns. “Everybody and their mother are talking about soybeans,” says the Louisiana corn and soybean specialist. “That's the story and our major concern. I'm not trying to fuss at anyone, but some production decisions were made a little prematurely with the August premium in mind. While that August premium is definitely juicy, you don't want to jeopardize yields to get it.”

How far along is Louisiana in soybean planting? “Way too far, and I don't mind saying that. It's now April 5 and, conservatively, we've got 30 percent of our bean acres already in the ground. There could easily be more planted. It's too early to have that many beans in. We had growers planting Group 4s on March 10.”

The most disturbing thing about the planting trend is Louisiana already has growers planting Group 5s. In fact, Groups 5s were planted as early as the last week of March.

“Think about that and tell me that isn't scary,” says Lanclos. “I hope I'm wrong, but I fear producers who've started too early could be very disappointed at harvest. This August premium has driven a lot of rash decisions. Everyone is chasing that premium and not balancing that with yield. I've said from day one that gaining maximum yield brings a whole lot more net return than planting too early, getting a pathetic yield and collecting the August premium.”

Lanclos says that for Groups 4s, growers should be evaluating a planting date on April 10. “That's just the planning of planting. We aren't even close to that window opening and most of our bean acreage is already planted. Unless we have a growing season that's unusual throughout, we're going to end up with shorter bean plants. That means less vegetative mass leading to less yield.”

Louisiana will also have beans ready to cut at the end of July or first of August. What happens if conditions turn hot in June when the pods are filling?

“If it turns hot, we'll have some serious quality issues — pods will be filled with BBs. Now, hopefully the weather works out in our favor. I pray for that. But historically, June and July are hot and dry months. Since we've planted so early, that's when much of our crop will be in the reproductive stages. It's a concern.”

Blaine says after the first week of April, Mississippi will be well over 50 percent planted. “I figure we'll be up at least 200,000 acres this year,” he says. “We ended up with around 1.3 million soybean acres last year.”

Blaine doesn't have a problem with planting dryland beans so early but admits the wide-row beans have him worried. And he “just can't understand the rush to get irrigated beans in so fast. On Group 5s, I'm telling Mississippi growers they need to hang loose at least until April 10. Many growers are going ahead and planting 5s, but I've tried to slow everybody down. I'm getting a lot of calls on this and in every instance I try to get them to just wait a little. Otherwise, we could end up with shorter plants and lower yields.

“I hope I'm wrong. But on these early-planted wide row beans, I doubt it. We can watch the crop and, if by late May it appears the crop needs help, we have some tricks we can use. Elevators have offered a premium for early delivery, but they aren't going to buy junk. There are some things we can do to protect the early crop's quality. (Editor's note: for more on early soybean planting in Mississippi, see box on Page 10.) Growers need to tune into that. As the crop progresses, we'll see what tricks we need to pull out of the bag.”

Premiums and replants

Arkansas soybean planting is “way ahead” of normal as well, says Chris Tingle, Extension specialist. Traditionally, the state has planted about 25 to 30 percent of 3 million acres in April. This spring, that number will jump considerably.

“The thing that scares me is we've got one good shot at this August premium,” says Tingle. “If cold weather arrives and the stand is lost, by the time we get back into the field to replant all the seed available will be late Group 5s. That means the beans won't mature fast enough to come off in time for that premium.”

For that reason, Tingle has been encouraging Arkansas growers to wait before planting. “I'd really prefer seed not go in until (the second week of April) to make sure weather won't bite us. If we take some precautions, I believe we can make a good crop and get it out in time for the premium. But if we have to replant, we've already missed the boat.”

Reports Tingle has been getting from around the state show that growers are focusing on planting late Group 4s. In a week or so, they'll get back to early 4s and late 3s, he says.

“It's tough to say how much we've got in the ground. I've seen reports from 10,000 acres to over 30,000. I know this: the weather has been too good for producers to just be sitting around the shop. There are a bunch of planters in the field and there have got to be a bunch of beans going in. But to get a good handle on what's happening is hard — with everyone in the field planting so many different crops, it's tough. I have gotten reports that beans have emerged in some fields. Producers in extreme northeast Arkansas (Clay and Green counties) are holding up a bit on their planting. Other than that, it's full steam ahead.”

One of the stranger things Tingle is seeing this year involves ground that hasn't been in soybeans before. “We've got cotton acres going to beans. Actually, we got an inquiry from a farmer who wants to put beans in a pasture. He wants to do it to try and make some money.”

If ground hasn't been in soybeans for three to five years, you need to seriously consider inoculating your seed, says Tingle. Otherwise, there won't be a good soil population of the bacteria that forms nodules and allows the soybean plant to produce nitrogen.

“I was talking with a seed dealer the other day. We both agreed that a whole lot is going to be learned about soybeans in situations that aren't typical. This will be an educating, challenging year. It's going to be a busy, busy summer.”


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