Choose varieties carefully, consider applying a seed treatment and make sure your planter/drill equipment is properly set up, especially for conservation tillage systems.
By Carrol Smith, EditorAs with other commodities, selecting the right soybean varieties for your operation is one of the most important decisions that a farmer has to make prior to the growing season.
“No two farms are alike,” says Dr. Ronnie Levy, Louisiana Extension soybean specialist. “There are differences in production practices, soil types and climatic conditions just to name a few. You should plan to plant more than one variety. This will help reduce the risk associated with these conditions and weather. For these reasons, it is important to gather as much data as possible before deciding which varieties to plant.
“Begin with data from your area and of similar production conditions,” he adds. “This should include commercial variety trials from research stations, Extension demonstrations and/or company trials. If you are unable to find information that matches your production, look for varieties that consistently out perform others when averaged across locations. A proven variety is one that performs well in a wide range of conditions, soil types and locations.”
To help Louisiana soybean farmers choose their varieties, they can refer to “Louisiana Selects,” which is a listing of top-performing soybean varieties in Louisiana. The list is based on commercial variety trials and Extension demonstrations. If you are a soybean producer in another state, contact your local Extension office for recommendations.
Seed treatment benefits
Once varieties have been chosen, it’s time to think about inputs. Soybean prices have made this crop very attractive to Southern producers. Thus, they are now more willing to invest in what it takes to achieve the highest yield potential. As a result, seed treatments continue to move into the “desired” column when it comes to soybean inputs.
Ethan Luth, Product Manager- SeedGrowth with Bayer CropScience, says the No. 1 benefit of a Poncho/VOTiVO seed treatment is improved plant health. “Treated soybean plants have more healthy root systems, and the tri-foliate leaves develop more quickly, which leads to better yield and performance,” Luth says.
And, specifically for Southern soybean farmers, controlling bean leaf beetles and thrips as well as providing protection against root-knot, reniform and soybean cyst nematodes is high on the list, too. “At the end of the day,” Luth says, “Poncho/VOTiVO protects the root system of the soybean plant. This seed treatment contains two components – an insecticide and a biological, which provides the nematode protection. The biological portion is unique in that it grows with the root system and creates a barrier of protection, or shield, that prevents nematodes from coming into contact with the roots.”
As for the insecticide component, Luth points out that it is systemic and moves into the plant. When bean leaf beetles or thrips begin to chew on the leaf surface, they are “turned off” by the insecticide and are motivated to want to eat something else.
For Southern soybean producers who are considering a seed treatment, Luth points out that seed treatments have evolved “step-bystep” over the years. For example, 10 years ago, farmers didn’t really think about applying a fungicide to their seed. But once that caught on, the next step was to apply an insecticide, too.
“Today, the next step is to incorporate the nematode benefit,” Luth says. “Southern soybean farmers who choose to apply Poncho/VOTiVO seed treatment typically realize a four- to six-bushel yield increase when you compare treated vs. non-treated seed, primarily because of the nematode aspect of the treatment.”
Another important detail in preparing for planting is to make sure that your equipment is set up correctly. University of Georgia (UGA) Extension engineer Paul Sumner compiled helpful information on equipment considerations for no-till soybean seeding before retiring last year. Following are his comments as they appear in the UGA 2013 Soybean Production Guide:
Probably the primary difference between conventional planter/drill systems and those designed for conservation tillage systems is weight, Since the openers and soil-engaging devices must penetrate much firmer soils and cut the residue, the conservation planter/drill systems are built heavier and have the ability to carry much more weight than conventional systems.
“For adequate coulter penetration, weight may have to be added to the carrier,” he adds. “Some planter/drills use a weight transfer linkage to transfer some of the tractor weight to the coulters to ensure penetration. Because coulters are usually mounted several feet in front of the seed opening/placement device (with coulter caddies even further), many use wide-fluted coulters, a pivoting hitch or a steering mechanism to keep the seed openers tracking in the coulter slots.
“Wide-fluted coulters (two to three inches wide) perform the most tillage and open a wide slot in the residue,” the UGA engineer continues. “They allow faster soil warm up (which may be a disadvantage in some double- cropping situations) and prepare an area for good soil-to-seed contact. However, because of the close spacing, fluted coulters require more weight for penetration, disturb more soil surface and bury more residue. In wet soil conditions, fluted coulters may loosen too much soil, which could prohibit good seed-to-soil contact. The loose, wet soil may stick to the seed openers and press wheels resulting in non-uniform depth control and clogging.
“Narrow-fluted coulters (one-half to oneinch wide) or narrow bubble coulters, ripple coulters and turboripple coulters do not require as much weight for penetration and do not throw as much soil out of the seed furrow as the wide-fluted coulters,” Sumner says. “Turboripple coulters have more cutting action over the ripped coulters of the same width. Ripple coulters with a smooth edge or smooth coulters are preferred for residue cutting. They can be sharpened to maintain the cutting surface.”
Proper coulter operation is key
“Operate all coulters close to seeding depth to avoid excessive soil throwing at high operating speeds and to limit the formation of air pockets below the seeding depth,” he says. “Use the largest diameter coulters available. When operated properly, they have the best angle for cutting residue and require less weight for penetration. Most no-till planters/drills are equipped with independent seeding units that should allow at least six inches of vertical movement. This allows smooth transit over non-uniform surface and adjusts for root stubs and other obstacles.
These units are sometimes staggered, which helps with the unit function (more side-toside space) and more space for the residue to flow through the system. “These units should be equipped with heavy down-pressure springs and sufficient weight to ensure penetration of both the coulters and seed furrow openers into untilled soil,” he says. “Usually these springs are adjustable, and multiple springs can be added until sufficient pressure is achieved. Successful planting/drilling with no-till equipment depends on specially designed systems that can uniformly place seed through heavy residue and into firm, moist soil. No-till equipment is available to achieve these results for good yields.”
There are many nuances associated with being prepared for planting, but varieties, seed treatments and equipment readiness are certainly among the most prominent factors to be addressed at this time of the year.