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Keep eye on varied planting dates as season unfolds

Soybean Watch: Will this year’s mid-May planting date garner top yields?

Tom J. Bechman, Midwest Crops Editor

June 2, 2023

3 Min Read
 nodes on soybean plants
NODES AND PODS: Top soybean yield is about having as many nodes and pods per acre as possible, agronomist Steve Gauck says. Planting soybeans early vs. late usually increases odds for more nodes. Tom J. Bechman

The Soybean Watch ’23 field was planted May 14. That’s three full weeks ahead of 2022, when wet soils delayed planting until June 4. The 2022 irrigated field yielded 72 bushels per acre. How will this year’s field fare?

Not that long ago, Purdue University recommended May 10 to May 20 as the ideal planting window for soybeans. However, Steve Gauck says farmer experience and trials by companies and universities indicate modern varieties perform better when planted earlier.

“The goal is to plant earlier so you get more total nodes per acre,” explains Gauck, a regional agronomy manager for Beck’s, sponsor of Soybean Watch ’23. “We’re finding that the more nodes per acre you have, the more pods per acre you should have. If you’re after 80- to 90-bushel-per-acre soybeans, you need as many nodes and pods as possible.”

Variation in planting dates

The shift in farmer attitude about planting date for soybeans was obvious this spring when a weather window opened in mid-April. Several people planted soybeans before planting corn. Many realize soybeans tend to handle cooler conditions during germination and emergence better than corn. Cool weather was a big part of April 2023.

“We certainly have plenty of soybeans planted early, and a lot planted during various windows in May as showers hit here and there,” Gauck says. “Some chose to hold off planting soybeans until it warmed up. It will be interesting to see how yields shake out this fall.”

Related:Evaluate soybean seedlings early in season

The Soybean Watch ’23 field was planted in 15-inch rows at 140,000 seeds per acre. It’s a 69-acre irrigated field. Much of the field is underlain by gravel at 36 to 40 inches deep.

What trials say

Beck’s Practical Farm Research trials were one of the first to indicate planting soybeans in mid-April to early May often produced the highest yield potential, Gauck says. “We’ve got data going back two decades, and the best yields most often come from those mid-April to early-May planting dates,” he says. “They begin dropping off in the second half of May, and tail off quickly as you get deeper into June.”

That doesn’t mean you can’t plant soybeans June 4 and harvest 70 bushels per acre, which happened in the Soybean Watch ’22. “What we don’t know is what that field would have made last year if it could have been planted April 15 or even May 15,” Gauck adds. “In the Beck’s PFR trials, we compare against various planting dates each year.”

In fact, in 2021, the PFR staff prepared a graph showing wins and losses for planting dates in soybeans in the Beck’s trial for 15 years at the Indiana PFR location near Atlanta. Based on data, planting from April 1 through April 30 yielded a 73% chance of winning with top yields, with a 20% chance of having the top yield from May 1 to May 15 and only a 7% chance of winning for anything planted May 16 or after.

“The advantage for planting early in these studies is even more pronounced in soybeans than in corn,” Gauck says. “It will be interesting to see if the trend holds this year.”

About the Author(s)

Tom J. Bechman

Midwest Crops Editor, Farm Progress

Tom J. Bechman became the Midwest Crops editor at Farm Progress in 2024 after serving as editor of Indiana Prairie Farmer for 23 years. 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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