Weather has created a major issue for farmers when it comes to planting over the past few growing seasons, coming to a head in 2019. It was common around the Midwest to see much of the planting get done in mid-May or early June, which is a few weeks behind schedule for most.
In 2020, things appear to be in better shape as the spring approaches, as significantly more field work was able to get done going into the winter.
However, Mother Nature is well known for forcing farmers to change their plans.
Just how much should farmers change their plans if the weather goes awry? Pat Holloway, an agronomist with Beck’s Hybrids, said those planting soybeans can expect to be a little more flexible.
“Beans are pretty forgiving,” Holloway said. “It’s not like corn where we have to switch to earlier maturities as quick.”
BASF seed agronomist Bill Backhaus said based on trials done in Illinois and Iowa, the target date for planting soybeans should be around May 5. That will maximize the pods per acre and therefore yield.
“Anything after that date, we lost about an average of one seed per plant per day,” Backhaus said. “That roughly equals about a half of a bushel per day. The date is a little earlier in the south and a hair later in the north, but May 5 is the target to shoot for.”
Holloway said mid-June is when he might suggest getting a shorter-season soybean seed if planting hasn’t started yet.
Compared to the fall of 2018, the post-harvest season in 2019 was significantly better for many farmers, Holloway said, allowing field work to be done and anhydrous to be applied.
“We should be able to get fields ready to plant quicker and be ready with either corn or beans,” Holloway said. “(Yields) actually fall quicker on soybeans than corn when we get into June.”
Backhaus echoed Holloway’s sentiment that soybeans can be more forgiving in the long run, but that doesn’t mean they like growing in sub-optimal conditions. He said he would suggest planting beans before corn if the conditions aren’t quite fit for corn, as soybeans can be more resilient. Soybeans can be planted in cooler, wetter conditions than corn.
“They don’t like wet feet,” Backhaus said. “We do want beans in as early as possible, and they are more forgiving than corn. They can handle it.”
The main concern is profitability. However, due to the forgiving nature of soybeans, farmers could get their beans planted in less-optimal conditions and not lose as much.
“(Profitability is) always going to be the first consideration,” Backhaus said. “But if you are going in sub-optimal planting conditions, (with) beans you don’t need a perfect stand to maximize yields, where corn you need that. Beans, you could lose 20% of what you planted and still have basically maximum yield potential.”
If making a switch in variety, Backhaus said making sure the beans can hit maturity before the possibility of frost in mid- to late October is key.
“The key is to increase the population to get the plant height taller and nodes with pods up off the ground for easier harvest,” he said. “I also recommend narrow rows — 15 inches or 20 inches as much as possible — for canopy, weed control and moisture conservation in August around pod fill.”