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Soybean Watch: Here’s the anatomy of a plant loaded with branches and pods.

Tom J. Bechman, Editor, Indiana Prairie Farmer

October 6, 2023

3 Min Read
hands holding a soybean plant loaded with branches and pods
LOADED: Agronomist Steve Gauck holds a soybean plant with an abundance of both branches and pods. “The amazing thing is it wasn’t just a plant off by itself … this plant had neighbors,” Gauck says. Photos by Tom J. Bechman

Steve Gauck pulled back the canopy in one of the better-looking locations in the Soybean Watch ’23 field and was impressed with what he saw. He was greeted with a mass of pods — several pods per node, especially in the midsection of plants where most yield power originates.

So, Gauck, a regional manager for Beck’s based near Greensburg, Ind., pulled a plant for a closer look. Beck’s sponsors Soybean Watch ’23.

“When I began examining the plant, I was impressed by the number of branches coming off that one plant,” he recalls. “The amazing thing is it wasn’t just a plant off by itself. If you are going to find a heavy-branched, heavy-podded soybean plant, that is usually where you find it. But this plant had neighbors. While not as robust as this plant, they also had more pods than a normal plant.”

Gauck began counting pods, knowing that in a normal field with a population of about 150,000 plants per acre, somewhere around 30 pods per plant is considered good.

“I found that many [pods] each on a couple branches,” he says. “There were well over 100 pods on that one plant. The secret besides the branching was close nodes, and multiple pods per node.”

When plant populations are lower, Gauck expects to find more pods per plant. At a population of 100,000, he looks for at least 75 to 80 pods per plant.

Related:Why late-season scouting matters

roots of a soybean plant with many nodules present

Why so many pods?

Gauck speculates as to what might have been going right for this plant:

Adequate time to grow. The field was planted in the first half of May. “Early planting tends to give soybean plants more time to develop more nodes, and if you have more nodes, you will likely have more pods,” Gauck says. “We continue to see advantages for early planting — even as early as mid-April, when conditions are right.”

Lack of stress. Because soil in this field is underlain with gravel, it is irrigated. The operator irrigated during the June drought, and as it turned dry again in late August. To aid in decision-making, Ceres Solutions installed a CropX soil moisture sensor, measuring soil moisture down to 48 inches. Betsy Bower, an agronomist with Ceres, provided weekly updates to the grower based on information transmitted from the probe. That helped the operator firm up plans for irrigating.

Good foundation. Gauck dug up roots with the plant. “There was a strong root system, still with many nodules present,” he says. “The nodules were no longer working bringing in nitrogen, and that should be expected at that point in the season. But it’s obvious that they provided all the nitrogen needed earlier in the season. I was also impressed by the large stem diameter on the plant.”

Population. Final population in this field was around 120,000 plants per acre. While still offering a good degree of insurance, it wasn’t so high that it led to excessive crowding, or fueled vegetative growth so rank that lodging became a major issue.

“Plants like this one are the foundation for high yields,” Gauck concludes. “It’s important to try to figure out what went right to produce this kind of plant so you can repeat it.”

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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