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More room lets beans branch, add pods

soybeans with heavy pods
PLENTY OF PODS: Agronomist Steve Gauck typically finds that when soybean plants have plenty of elbow room, they branch more and put on more pods per node compared to when they’re crowded.
Soybean Watch: Number of pods, beans per pod and bean size count more than plants per acre when it comes to yield.

Anyone who grows soybeans for very long soon learns that if you want to find a plant that looks like a tree, with one or more branches and tons of pods, look on an end row or a spot where single plants grew without many neighbors. You’re likely to find an example of just how well soybeans compensate for missing plants when they have plenty of room.

Your goal is top yield, not raising plants as stout as trees. However, if you crowd plants too much, you’ll likely wind up with taller plants with few branches. Steve Gauck believes there’s a happy medium.

“When soybeans have enough space, they will put on one or more branches which also bear pods,” says Gauck, a Beck’s sales agronomist located near Greensburg, Ind. Beck’s sponsors Soybean Watch ’18.

“We saw that in the Soybean Watch ’18 field this year,” he continues. “The target seeding rate was around 140,000 plants per acre. When we did stand counts early in the season, we typically found 100,000 to 120,000 plants per acre.

“Based on experience, if you’re in 15-inch rows, like in this field, you can still reach maximum yield with 80,000 plants per acre. We had more than enough plants in this field this year. The important point is that we didn’t have an excessive number of plants.

“It varied some by variety and location within the field, but in general, plants had room to grow and still put on one or more branches which also produced pods. That’s what you hope to achieve.”

Final observations
While scouting the field for the final time before harvest, Gauck observed that plants with ample room typically had at least one productive branch, and sometimes more than one. For a branch to be productive, it needs to bear pods at several nodes.

He found the most branching where the stand wasn’t quite as thick as in other parts of the field. A few spots experienced emergence issues. Soybeans that grew in those areas tended to have branches. Often, the main stem was loaded with pods. There was also typically less distance between nodes on the stem, which also helped plants put on more pods.

Growing conditions were favorable overall during the season, although it was dry early and then very wet in mid-June. August rains helped soybeans fill pods and boosted bean size. Producing beans that are as large as possible for the variety is also key to yield, Gauck says.

Several pods per node usually indicates there was minimal pod abortion. Abortion of flowers or young pods is part of the natural cycle for soybeans. The fewer pods aborted when they’re small, the more pods that will mature per node, Gauck explains.

“There were some issues here and there this season, but overall it was a strong year for growing soybeans in many areas,” he concludes.

The Soybean Watch ’18 yield was harvested in late September. Look for yield information soon.

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