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Lessons learned from 2023 soybean season

A farmer and an agronomist discuss takeaways from last season as we head into the new soybean growing season.

Curt Arens

January 25, 2024

5 Min Read
Combine in field
INTERESTING SEASON: Farmers and agronomists across much of the Midwest agree that last year’s soybean growing season was challenging, and some of the disease and insect problems experienced in 2023 may carry over into this year. Curt Arens

Dryland soybeans had a tough year across much of drought-stricken Nebraska in 2023, including Ed Lammers’ farm in Cedar County.

Lammers, who serves as the new vice chair of the United Soybean Board, says there was potential for a great dryland soybean crop earlier in the summer, but the lack of moisture and the extreme heat of August and early September proved detrimental to yield in many of his fields. And bean size was extremely small.

“I had one dryland soybean field measured at 4,600 beans to a pound,” Lammers says. That made it tough to set the combine because that many seeds to a pound was off the charts.

Rainfed soybean challenges

“The irrigated soybeans were top in yield,” Lammers says. “We really had no issues with germination or population stand. We started irrigating soybean fields the last week of July. We had a hard rain around July 4, which gave us 2.5 inches.”

There was some white mold in a few of the irrigated fields, but otherwise, he had no major disease or insect pressures going into harvest.

Because of the heat late into the season, Lammers harvested soybeans about a week earlier than normal. “So far, going into this year, the moisture in the soil is normal, and that gives me great hope for 2024 crop production,” he says.

Related:USB vice chair: ‘Get involved’

Adam Haag, Golden Harvest agronomy manager for the western U.S., found similar yields and issues across his massive region in the western Corn Belt.

“The majority of soybean acres across the growing region that my team of 10 agronomists cover, running from North Dakota south down to Texas, is rainfed, but the highest-producing soybean acres are irrigated,” Haag says. “But on rainfed acres in our region, yield was quite a challenge this year.”

Much of his region was fighting drought in 2022, which continued into 2023, although the conditions improved slightly in parts of the area, he says.

Trouble with white mold

Irrigated soybeans were not without their challenges. “The crop looked good over the majority of the area, but in late July, we had some timely rains and it kind of cooled off,” Haag explains. “Within a two-week time frame, white mold really started to take off. This was the highest pressure we’ve had in a long time over a larger geography than we’ve experienced in some time.”

It struck Nebraska, South Dakota and some parts of Iowa.

“On irrigated acres, we always have the risk of having white mold as an issue, but historically, we have had the ability to implement the right management practices to keep it under control,” Haag says. “With the proper variety, proper row width, proper fungicide timing and irrigation scheduling, we have managed to achieve high yields in spite of the presence of white mold.

“This year was different. Mother Nature created just the right environment for it to really thrive,” he adds, just as Lammers had observed in Cedar County.

In southeast Nebraska, Missouri and Kansas, Haag notes fields with sudden death syndrome. “SDS took off across a larger area than we’ve seen, even into central Nebraska, showing up in spots where we’ve never seen it,” Haag says. “Those two diseases stacked up to make it a challenge, and with the drought, producers lost the top end off soybean yields.”

Dectes stem borer challenges

There were surprises on the insect front, as well, for Haag. In south-central Nebraska and into Kansas, dectes stem borer was a challenge.

“You didn’t have to look very hard to find the beetles,” Haag says. “It is challenging because of the wide time window in which they lay eggs. Then, the larvae burrow into the stem, and foliar treatments don’t reach them.

“As harvest approaches, fields with heavy stem borer infestations can have significant lodging issues. Across central and southern Nebraska, the early-maturing soybean varieties were hit harder by dectes stem borer, and the challenge is that they are hard to control chemically, because it isn’t economically feasible. You have to spray multiple times to kill adults across a wide window.”

Allowing Mother Nature to kill the pests would be better. “A good, cold winter, a nice freeze and thaw cycle, that would diminish them from overwintering,” Haag says. “So, they are on the radar for next year. Dectes has been here for a while, but last year was a real challenge.”

Haag adds that understanding the obstacles of last season should help producers look forward to the next growing season to build a plan on a field-by-field basis, looking at potential disease pathogens and potential insect problems.

“Know the field history and implement the right management practices,” he says.

Rotate crops

“Crop rotation is an important piece, and across a large part of our geography, it is a well-used practice. But the inoculum for many diseases is still there a couple of years down the road,” Haag adds, “so when the environmental conditions are conducive, there is a probability that you will have an issue going forward in those fields again.”

Outbreaks can be managed, Haag notes. “Implement the right management practices, proper varietal selection and fungicide applications,” he advises. “Varietal selection is the first line of defense, no matter what seed company you are purchasing from. We’ve come a long way in terms of screening and rating varieties for resistance and tolerance.”

But even with the most tolerant varieties out there, Haag still advises taking a multifaceted approach. For soybean white mold, for instance, managing row width, reducing seeding rates, applying fungicide at the proper time and irrigation scheduling can help avoid as many problems in the field as possible going into the 2024 soybean growing season.

For Lammers, 2023 proved to be an interesting growing season with unique challenges, but with ample fall and winter precipitation in his area in northeast Nebraska, he says that he is looking forward to seeing what 2024 will bring.

Learn more by emailing Haag at [email protected].

About the Author(s)

Curt Arens

Editor, Nebraska Farmer

Curt Arens began writing about Nebraska’s farm families when he was in high school. Before joining Farm Progress as a field editor in April 2010, he had worked as a freelance farm writer for 27 years, first for newspapers and then for farm magazines, including Nebraska Farmer.

His real full-time career, however, during that same period was farming his family’s fourth generation land in northeast Nebraska. He also operated his Christmas tree farm and grew black oil sunflowers for wild birdseed. Curt continues to raise corn, soybeans and alfalfa and runs a cow-calf herd.

Curt and his wife Donna have four children, Lauren, Taylor, Zachary and Benjamin. They are active in their church and St. Rose School in Crofton, where Donna teaches and their children attend classes.

Previously, the 1986 University of Nebraska animal science graduate wrote a weekly rural life column, developed a farm radio program and wrote books about farm direct marketing and farmers markets. He received media honors from the Nebraska Forest Service, Center for Rural Affairs and Northeast Nebraska Experimental Farm Association.

He wrote about the spiritual side of farming in his 2008 book, “Down to Earth: Celebrating a Blessed Life on the Land,” garnering a Catholic Press Association award.

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