Soybean School: The risk and rewards of early planted soybeans

When it’s mid-April, relatively dry, but cool, should you plant soybeans?

We tackle that question on the latest RealAgriculture Soybean School episode with Horst Bohner, Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs soybean specialist.

Bohner has a simple answer to our question. Basically, he recommends planting both soybeans and corn within the same window. “If it’s fit for corn, you should be planting soybeans too,” he says. But there’s much more to the story, including a number of factors and variables that growers need to keep an eye on as the spring progresses.

The first thing to consider is the weather. Looking at the short-term forecast, Bohner sees nighttime lows of -3 degrees Celsius. Planting into those temperatures doesn’t make any sense. “The risk is higher than the reward,” he says. But with a warming trend approaching — 10 to 12 degree daytime highs and warmer evenings — he’s willing to contemplate rolling into a field.

“If you have 1,000 acres of soybeans to plant, there’s nothing wrong with planting 300 acres of those on April 20 if conditions are good.” But it doesn’t make sense to plant them all, says Bohner who notes that he considers any soybean planted before May 15 to be ‘early’. (Story continues after the video.)

In the video, Bohner reviews the benefits and risks of getting soybeans in the ground quickly. Earlier flowering, more nodes, more pods, faster-closing canopy, more efficient nodulation, and a lengthy growing season that can feed the potential of longer-season varieties — it all adds up to higher yields.

But there are are risks. Cold rains can produce imbibing chilling injury, when the seed takes up very cold water. Chilly soils can also leave seed vulnerable to disease and insects, such as bean leaf beetle, which can lead to poor stand establishment and low plant populations. And then there’s the prospect of things going too well with soybeans finishing too early before that can take advantage of those August rains that traditionally make grain.

There’s lots to consider. Bohner also tackles the idea of planting deeper early in the season to mitigate fluctuating soil temperatures. It’s a strategy he’s heard talk of this spring, but it’s not a practice he recommends. “The biggest challenge with early-planted soybeans is getting them out of the ground,” he says. “If you plant them shallow, you are more likely to see them again.”

Click here for more Soybean School episodes.

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