Most of the time when people worry about soybean stands, they talk about emergence. Back when more tillage was done and a heavy rain fell afterwards, it was often whether or not the soybeans could emerge through the crust. That can still be an issue in any tillage system if the soil is worked too wet and the weather after planting doesn't cooperate.
What Shaun Casteel says growers interested in top yields should be thinking about today is soybean establishment, not just emergence. Casteel, a Purdue University Extension agronomist and soybean specialist, explains the difference in the first edition of a new series, Soybean Success, debuting in the April issue of Indiana Prairie Farmer.
Basically, establishment refers to a system of [practices that result in getting the stand off to a good stand in the field. It involves proper planning ahead of time, and may depend on what type of residue cover you're planting into. If you're no-tilling into corn stalks, then part of the success of establishment may rely on having row cleaners to remove enough residue so that the seed can be placed properly. Another component would be doing whatever it takes to avoid sidewall compaction of the soil, so that it is not a factor that interferes with seedling growth.
In other words, establishment is the entire process of everything it takes to get the stand you desire in a soybean field. It is much more than just worrying about one factor, such as whether the soil will crust or not due to a hard rain, and cause some soybeans to break their necks trying to emerge under difficult conditions. When establishment goes properly, you wind up with a stand of 110,000 to 120,000 plants per acre, Castel says. He believes that is the goal soybean farmers interested in top yields should shoot for in their soybean production systems today.