Your research is complete. In one field you planted soybeans several weeks earlier than normal and managed them through the season. It paid off in higher yield. Now you’re ready to plant more early beans. “Early planting can be very successful — if you plan ahead,” says Farm Journal Field Agronomist Ken Ferrie. Take these steps:
1. Prepare Fields the Previous Fall
“Leave the surface level and ready to plant when conditions become fit next spring,” Ferrie says. “Plan what tillage tools you will need. For strip-till or no-till, consider applying a fall burndown herbicide to have a clean field in the spring.”
2. Decide When to Plant
It might be one week earlier than usual or several. “Plant early enough so soybeans start flowering before the solstice,” Ferrie says. “The perfect time may be when you feel it’s too cold and/or wet to plant corn, but your neighbors are starting. Soybeans can handle those conditions, with seed treated for insects and disease.”
3. Bring Your Team on Board
“The operations crew must allocate equipment and labor,” Ferrie says. “The pest team will have to scout two crops. Besides applying post-emergence herbicides at the right time, they must scout earlier for insects like spider mites and aphids.”
4. Tell Your Suppliers
“Your retailer or your farm’s pest team must be ready to apply your soybean burndown herbicides,” Ferrie says. “If your retailer is spraying corn herbicides, he may not want to switch to soybean products.“
“If you spray yourself, have products on hand,” Ferrie adds. “If a manufacturer can’t ship bulk products that early, buy packaged herbicides. Tell your seed dealer he’ll need to treat your seed earlier than usual.”
5. Resolve Labor and Equipment Conflicts
Assess how you were using man hours that you’ll now need to devote to early soybean planting. Maybe your team was spraying herbicides or spreading manure. Can you shift jobs around to get everything done?
Keep one rule uppermost: Never delay corn planting. “Once conditions are ideal, you must plant corn,” Ferrie says. “If you miss the sweet spot, you could lose a ½ bu. to 1 bu. per acre for each day’s delay.”
There are various solutions to bottlenecks. For instance, you can plant soybeans, switch to corn when conditions are right and then finish soybeans whenever you can. “That mitigates risk by spreading out soybean maturity,” Ferrie says.
To plant most of your soybeans early, you will probably need to add a planter. “Some farmers tell me the increased yield of early-planted soybeans paid for their soybean planter in just one year,” Ferrie says.
“That planter won’t need as much technology because soybeans are more forgiving.”
Yet, the planter will need its own tractor. “The technology on modern planters can make switching between planters a half-day affair,” he says.
Your soybean planter will need a tender, as well as a driver. “This might be where two smaller farmers could team up,” Ferrie suggests.
Another option is a high-speed planter. “Planting twice as many acres per day may let you plant soybeans in half the time and still be timely with corn,” Ferrie says.
Iowa State University’s Ag Decision Maker can help with these decisions. Visit extension.iastate.edu/agdm.
6. Anticipate a Spraying or Sidedressing Crunch
Applying post-emergence soybean herbicides might overlap with sidedressing corn. “If you have a high-clearance applicator, you could sidedress corn a little later,” Ferrie says. “Apply enough nitrogen preplant so corn doesn’t run short.”
7. Plan Your Harvest
Planting soybeans a month earlier will move harvest a week or 10 days earlier than your normal harvest schedule, Ferrie points out.
“Early soybeans may mature at the same time as short-season corn hybrids,” he says. ”Maybe you can omit shorter-season hybrids and start harvest with soybeans. Be prepared to harvest corn in the morning each day, switch to soybeans until they get tough, and then switch back to corn.”
8. Tell Landlords and Farm Managers
They’ll love higher soybean yields, but no one likes surprises in the spring.
High-Yield Soybeans Series
Adjusting practices to grow higher soybean yields isn’t simple. There are technology and management practices to master. To help you put everything together, visit AgWeb.com/high-yield-soybeans