Every year, more farmers ignore the calendar and start planting soybeans as soon as soil conditions allow in hopes that earlier planting will boost production. Beans planted from mid-April through early May have more time to harvest sunlight and increase photosynthesis, which results in higher yields. But that practice isn’t without risk.

Studies show waiting too long to plant also can cost yield. Research led by Shawn Conley, University of Wisconsin-Madison soybean specialist, indicates yields decrease by 0.2 to 0.5 bushel per acre per day when seed is planted after April 25. Soybeans planted in mid-April tend to yield 5 to 10 bushels per acre better than mid- to late-May planting, Conley says.

Farmers need to balance the yield advantage of planting early with the risks. However, seed companies have geared breeding programs to offer more variety options that better handle early-season environments, which can include major temperature swings and heavy rains.

“Picking high-yielding varieties that emerge and grow fast is best if planting early,” Conley says. “Cooler soils early in the planting season can delay emergence, so select the longest-season varieties for the climate and farm. Producers can gain yield by pushing maturity.

“Protect seed and seedlings. Agronomists recommend treatments to include fungicides that protect against early-season diseases such as pythium, phytophthora, rhizoctonia, fusarium root rot and sudden death syndrome.”

Conley points out that yields might have been down 10 to 20 bushels per acre in 2023, but a full water profile in most fields at planting time impacted overall production. And even though dry conditions came later, weed control was good and there was relatively low pressure from insects and disease.

The Wisconsin Soybean Association Yield Contest is held each year to encourage the development of these new, innovative management practices. Darlington, Wis., strip-tiller Dan Kamps won the new contestant category with a yield of 92.86 bushels per acre.

Kamps and his wife, Ruth, operate Kamps Alfalfa Farms, which totals 1,031 acres. Along with corn, alfalfa and custom-chopping corn for silage, the couple also had 30 acres of soybeans last fall, their first year ever growing that crop.

The contest plot of 1.5 acres, with a pH rating of 6.7, featured a Tama silt loam soil that had been in continuous corn for 30 years. Twenty-five Angus stock cows normally graze that ground in late fall and winter.

Kamps fertility package at planting included 1 gallon of Black Label Zn, 2 ounces of Radiate and 1 quart of Accomplish Max per acre. Seed-applied inoculants were Dyna-Start 3P and Ilevo. Foliar feeding included 2 ounces of Radiate Next and 1 quart of ReaX Complete. Fungicide treatments were Priaxor at the R2 leaf stage and Revytek at the R4 leaf stage.

Xitavo 2632 soybeans, a Group III maturity, were planted in 20-inch rows at 130,000 seeds per acre with a John Deere 1770 NT planter on May 2. Beans were harvested Oct. 2 at 13.4%, with a final stand of 110,000 plants per acre.

“With only half the normal rainfall during the growing season, I was surprised with the yield,” Kamps says. “However, the dry conditions helped curtail disease infestations. Looking at the entire production program, success came using strip tillage across the farm, plus planting as early as possible, which helped the flowering timetable for beans.

“Since this was virgin ground with a south slope that featured good sunlight, I decided to enter the contest. If weather cooperates, I will plant 140 acres of soybeans before corn and lower the population to 110,000 plants per acre. And with a little more moisture, maybe 100 bushels of beans per acre will rattle out of the combine."

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