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Soybeans churn out good yields despite challenges

Tom J. Bechman Steve Gauck holding soybean plant in soybean field
BRANCHING HELPED: The soybean plant’s ability to compensate and send out more branches to make more pods helped many fields post respectable yields despite a tough season, agronomist Steve Gauck says.
Soybean Watch: Many fields yielded well despite an up-and-down season.

Cool, wet soils in late May, coupled with soil crusting and minor slug feeding, resulted in lower stand counts than the Soybean Watch ’21 grower expected. Then a prolonged dry spell in late July through most of August caused soil moisture levels to drop precariously low when soybeans were filling pods and even still forming pods in the tops of plants. Despite this up-and-down season, the Soybean Watch ’21 field yielded 66 bushels per acre.

“Several factors probably contributed to winding up with a strong yield despite less-than-desirable weather conditions,” says Steve Gauck, a regional agronomy manager for Beck’s, sponsor of Soybean Watch ’21. “Several good management choices helped. Plus, yield was aided by the soybean’s ability to compensate for missing plants.”

Related: Soybeans faced challenges in 2021

Here’s a closer look at factors helping yield:

More branching. Most of the field averaged over 90,000 plants per acre in the final stand, although a few areas were around 70,000 plants per acre. Gauck considers 80,000, sometimes less, as enough soybean plants to still reach top yield potential when the weather cooperates.

“The thinner population allowed for more branching,” he says. “You can quickly increase the number of nodes per acre through branching of plants.”

The more nodes per acre, the higher the odds are for more pods and more beans per acre, he observes.

Good weed control. Weeds were not an issue in this no-till cornstalk field. Burndown herbicides worked well, and the grower laid down residual herbicides that took care of grasses and most broadleaves. He came back with a postemergence herbicide where there were a few weed escapes, primarily on end rows.

The only exception was volunteer corn. The grower didn’t add in a grass herbicide to take it out originally. He came back later, and the spray was effective.

“Some plants growing near volunteer cornstalks didn’t branch on that side, but there wasn’t that much volunteer corn to be a big issue with yield,” Gauck says.

Proper planting depth. Gauck prefers soybeans to be planted at least 1.5 inches deep, and this grower follows that strategy.

“About 80% of nodulation happens at planting depth, and nodules perform best at soil temperatures of 68 to 74 degrees F,” Gauck says. “So, you don’t want nodules too close to the surface.

“No-till, and residue left on top because of it, helped keep soils cooler during the long, dry part of summer, favoring better nodulation. When nodulation is effective, plants have more nitrogen to produce beans.”

Fungicide and insecticide application. The grower applied both a fungicide and an insecticide at the R3 growth stage in about 18 gallons of water per acre.

“These applications protect yield and can help plants through stress conditions,” Gauck says. “The high spray volume increases effectiveness. After these applications, plants are set up to create larger seeds.”

Timely harvest. Soybeans were harvested when ready, right at 13% moisture. Harvested with a draper-style head, there was very little shattering, resulting in fewer beans left behind, Gauck says.

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