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Find pod power in middle of soybean plantsFind pod power in middle of soybean plants

Soybean Watch: The highest yield potential comes from the middle part of the stem.

Tom J. Bechman

September 8, 2023

3 Min Read
 A close-up of soybean pods on a stem
POD POWER: Pulling back the upper canopy and looking underneath in the Soybean Watch ’23 field reveals nodes loaded with pods in the middle part of the plants. Tom J. Bechman

What does a high-yield soybean plant look like near the end of the season? Steve Gauck believes it brims with pods at every node. The first place he looks is in the midsection of a plant.

“The entire plant is important, and all pods matter,” Gauck says. “However, we typically find about 60% of final yield comes from the middle part of the plant. That’s where you hope to find nodes spaced close together, with multiple pods per node.”

Gauck is a regional agronomy manager for Beck’s, based near Greensburg, Ind. Beck’s sponsors Soybean Watch ’23.

A late-season check in the Soybean Watch ’23 field revealed that the crop appeared to be on track to deliver respectable yields. When the canopy was pulled back, the first obvious feature was that plants were teeming with pods, especially in the midsections. Nodes were spaced relatively close together in the middle portion of the plants, each with three to four three-bean pods.

The field is irrigated, so there should be sufficient moisture to allow plants to finish on a positive note. “We are always watching for issues like diseases or insects, even at this stage, but so far we have not found major problems in this field that would impact yield,” Gauck says.

High-yield components

Here are key factors that Gauck believes contribute to higher soybean yields:

Nodes per plant. “We want as many nodes as possible,” he explains. “Ideally, they will be spaced relatively close together on the plant. More nodes equal more pods and more beans per acre.”

Planting early typically results in closer podding, all other things being equal, he says. The Soybean Watch ’23 field was planted by mid-May.

“You also should control weeds early,” Gauck adds. “We saw in a few thistle patches this year that, when allowed to compete with beans before spraying, soybean plants tended to seek light, putting a lot more distance between nodes. That hurts yield potential.”

Pods per node. Achieving ideal spacing for nodes only helps if each node sets multiple pods. “The key is avoiding as much stress as possible during that part of the season,” Gauck says. “Soybeans typically send out multiple flowers at each node, each capable of producing a pod. When plants are stressed, more of those flowers abort and don’t form pods than if growing conditions are favorable.”

Because this field is irrigated, the grower has an extra tool available to help mitigate possible stress. However, the secret is knowing when to irrigate — enough that plants aren’t overly stressed but not so much that plants produce excessive vegetation, leading to lodging later. A moisture probe installed by Ceres Solutions early in the season provides information about moisture levels directly to the grower’s phone, helping him make more informed decisions.

Beans per pod. Somewhat controlled by genetics, three beans per pod is standard, with four being a bonus. Most pods observed in the Soybean Watch ’23 field have three beans per pod.

“You don’t want a lot of two-bean pods if you are after top yields,” Gauck notes. “Again, it’s a matter of minimizing stress, especially when plants are making those decisions during the reproductive phase.”

About the Author(s)

Tom J. Bechman

Editor, Indiana Prairie Farmer, Farm Progress

Tom J. Bechman is editor of Indiana Prairie Farmer. He joined Farm Progress in 1981 as a field editor, first writing stories to help farmers adjust to a difficult harvest after a tough weather year. His goal today is the same — writing stories that help farmers adjust to a changing environment in a profitable manner.

Bechman knows about Indiana agriculture because he grew up on a small dairy farm and worked with young farmers as a vocational agriculture teacher and FFA advisor before joining Farm Progress. He works closely with Purdue University specialists, Indiana Farm Bureau and commodity groups to cover cutting-edge issues affecting farmers. He specializes in writing crop stories with a focus on obtaining the highest and most economical yields possible.

Tom and his wife, Carla, have four children: Allison, Ashley, Daniel and Kayla, plus eight grandchildren. They raise produce for the food pantry and house 4-H animals for the grandkids on their small acreage near Franklin, Ind.

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