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Track cause of soybean stand problems

Soybean Watch: Missing plants could mean planter problems. Now is the time to find answers.

Tom J. Bechman, Midwest Crops Editor

June 9, 2023

3 Min Read
soybean seedlings in the field
MISSING PLANTS: These are not 30-inch rows. The row with only a couple of plants formed a repeating pattern across the field. Disk openers on that row did not always penetrate the residue. Tom J. Bechman

You’ve rolled your hula-hoop and determined plant populations. Overall, you’re satisfied with the stand in your no-till soybeans. You planted 140,000 seeds per acre, and your population is just over 105,000 plants per acre. You hoped for more, but it’s still well into the safety zone for soybean populations that can deliver maximum yield.

What you’re not so happy about are occasional rows with large skips between plants. In a few places, it looks like 30-inch-row soybeans, not 15-inch rows, because plants in one row are missing for a considerable stretch.

“The time to figure out what was going on is when you first see this type of pattern,” says Steve Gauck, a regional manager for Beck’s, based near Greensburg, Ind. Beck’s sponsors Soybean Watch ’23.

“The clues needed to figure it out are likely still there,” he says. “And if it winds up tracking back to the planter, and you haven’t cleaned it up yet, you can figure out which row seemed to be involved and inspect the row unit, as well.”

Gauck suggests standing back and looking over a wide area of the field. Is there a pattern? Can you narrow it down to one row or side-by-side rows? If so, then you can investigate seed placement, looking for differences. You need an idea of what you’re looking for before you inspect the planter.

Related:Keep eye on varied planting dates as season unfolds

Example of missing plants

Take the case of the field where every so often, it looked like 30-inch rows vs. 15-inch rows, although most of the field was in good shape. “Start looking for the common denominator,” Gauck says. “What things seem to be the same wherever you don’t see plants?”

In this case, soybeans were planted into heavy residue from a 240-bushel-per-acre corn crop. “Where gaps were biggest, residue was heaviest,” he recalls. “Often, the new soybean row lined up over the old corn row for a stretch where there were few plants.”

You’re thinking residue interfered with forming the seed trench and placing seed properly. If you check the planter, you may find that disk blades on certain rows are worn to a smaller diameter than on other rows. It could be the row or rows weren’t penetrating residue as well and obtaining adequate seed-to-soil contact, especially when it was positioned directly over an old row.

“Once you know what the problem is, you can make adjustments before next year,” Gauck says. “As long as you still have 80,000 plants per acre, you wouldn’t do anything about it this year.”

One modification would be to no-till at an angle instead of driving straight with existing old rows. “That would get you off old corn rows more of the time,” he explains. “If you have skips and gaps then, they should be shorter.”

Another option might be replacing worn disk openers. Going back and checking the planter could be time well spent. You might even consider switching the type of blades, opting for something to better penetrate through heavy residue.

In this case, the operator did all three things, and he eliminated the problem the next year. “That’s why evaluating stands early in the season is so important,” Gauck says. “You still have time to make changes.”

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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