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PFR Report

It’s Time to Rethink Your High Populations

Published on Tuesday, April 3, 2018

While agricultural practices have changed over the last few decades, one factor has remained at the top of farmers minds: cost savings. As farmers, we’re great at finding new ways to save money, while still accomplishing our goals. And if we can increase profit while cutting expense costs, all the better! But what if we could continue to do this, but change our execution slightly to increase profits? Let’s talk about soybean seeding rate and row spacing.

It has been common practice over the years to plant first crop soybeans between 160,000 and 220,000 seeds/A. With advancements in seed treatments (such as Beck’s industry-leading Escalate™ yield enhancement system), we’ve been able to keep soybeans healthier and safer during that critical period when they are in the ground, which in turn maintains stand. However, we have found that we can still maintain a high level of yield and profitability with lower seeding rates and plant stands.

It’s important to look at seeding rates and how row spacing can effect it. Through Beck’s Practical Farm Research (PFR)® multi-year, multi-location data, we’ve found that we can maximize yield and return on investment (ROI) when planting soybeans between 100,000 and 125,000 seeds/A. This data is reflected in the multi-location graph below.

Another thing to make note of on this chart is row spacing. If you notice, regardless of the seeding rate, we’re saw higher yields when went from 30 in. to 20 in. rows, and again from 20 in. to 15 in. rows. Why? Narrower rows will canopy faster, thus shading potential weeds out and providing better weed control. Narrower row spacing also giving these soybean plants better intra-row spacing. Now, everyone knows that to maximize corn yields you need two things: even emergence and even spacing. But, do those things really matter when it comes to soybeans? Many factors attribute to overall yields in soybeans, but we are finding that by spacing plants out further apart (increasing row spacing also increases plant to plant spacing within a row at a given population), we can increase yield and, in turn, our ROI. Advancements in planter technology allows us to more accurately place seed in the ground, which improves our chance of increasing plant efficiency. Increasing plant efficiency decreases plant stress, all of which increases yield. 

While seeding rates and row spacing are two factors that you can control, weather is one of the biggest contributing factors to crop yield that is completely out of our hands. As we saw in 2017, we can go from soaking wet early-season conditions to extremely dry and hot, and then finish out with a cool August and September, producing yields that no one expected. When we focus on early-season conditions, we know that a cool wet spring right after planting soybeans can really affect how many plants actually make it out of the ground. I’ve seen stand loss upwards of 50 percent because of cool, wet conditions after planting, and that’s even with the best seed treatment on the market.

When you’re walking out in a field that’s experienced conditions like this and your stand looks a little thin, do some stand counts. Throw a hula-hoop (the sparkly pink ones are easy to see) a few times and see what’s actually out there. Hypothetically, let’s say you planted 135,000 seeds/A., but then it turned cool and wet and your field saw a little PPO herbicide damage. You’ve probably noticed that your stand is looking pretty thin. But, you don’t have large gaps in the rows, and there aren’t spots the size of a combine with nothing growing in them. So, you throw your pink hula-hoop out in the field a few times and find that you actually have a final stand of about 80,000 plants/A.

If you’re used to seeing 120,000 to 130,000 plants/A. in your field, 80,000 probably seems pretty thin. However, you if you made it to a PFR Insight meeting this past winter you probably remember us talking mention that we have still seen good profits, even at very low seeding rates and stands. Looking at the chart below, we see that even though we’re down 1.2 Bu./A. from 125,000 to 75,000, we can still make money.

Soybean plants have an amazing ability to branch out and compensate for lower plant stands. The data in this chart was actually taken from three different cooperators spread across Iowa and into Minnesota. Totaling roughly 200 acres, conditions ranged from no-till to conventional till, 20 in. rows to 30 in. rows, and rolling timber soils to the most fertile black soils in the US. Regardless of conditions, we’re still seeing the same thing: maximizing yield at 125,000 seeds/A. and maximizing ROI at around 100,000 seeds/A.

Hopefully this information will be insightful as we move into spring and start putting seed in the ground. If you have any questions or would like to learn more, please do not hesitate to reach out to your local Beck’s representative.

Miles McGovney | PFR Agronomist/Operator 

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Jim Schwartz
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Jim Schwartz

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1 comments on article "PFR Report"

Dave White

4/4/2018 9:29 PM

Thank you.

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