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Watch for early-season issues in fields

Lessons from the first four years of Soybean Watch.

The 2021 season marks the fifth year for Soybean Watch, sponsored by Becks. The concept is simple. Pick a field centrally located in the eastern Corn Belt and scout it all year. Pass on what shows up there so farmers everywhere can be aware of what to look for in their fields.

“It’s refreshing to be the agronomist scouting the Soybean Watch field because we’re usually only called to look at problems,” says Steve Gauck, a regional agronomy manager for Becks, based near Greensburg, Ind. “When I visit this field, it isn’t because someone has called in a problem. We’re making general observations about whatever we find. That tends to let me look more at how soybeans develop, and pass along some of that information, besides just dealing with pests or insects.”

That doesn’t mean that Gauck doesn’t find insects, disease, unusual growth, weeds and a host of other things when he visits the Soybean Watch field. It’s managed by an operator who treats it just like he would any other field. Some of the soybeans are Becks varieties and some are varieties from other companies. That increases the chances for comparisons in differences in maturity and growth habit, he says.

Key lessons

Here are a few instances that stand out from past years:

Slugs can’t read a calendar. The very first year, 2017, was conducive for slugs, even late in the growing season. Gauck found slugs still on foot-tall plants in the waning days of June — almost unheard of but true in 2017. The Soybean Watch field didn’t need to be replanted, but some other fields were replanted because of slug issues.

There’s no remedy for 6-inch rain. If it rains 6 inches in one night in a no-till field, corn stalks move. There is no way around it. The bright side is that during that season, only a small area of soybeans actually drowned out. Weather events are more extreme today, but varieties tend to be more resilient and can withstand those extreme events.

Weed hunt finds waterhemp. Gauck had the distinction of introducing the operator to waterhemp, which he didn’t know was in the field. Gauck discovered the plants while scouting during a routine Soybean Watch visit. He also uncovered a few small plants that appeared to be a cross between pigweed and waterhemp. Today, the farmer plans for waterhemp control on a routine basis.

Thinner stands produce plants with more branches. Plants from thinner stands also have more nodes per plant, Gauck says. He believes it’s one of the ways soybeans compensate for missing plants. The key is maintaining good weed control in areas with reduced stands.

TAGS: Crop Topics
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