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Soybean production lessons learned from the 2019 growing season

Many soybean producers would like to forget the 2019 growing season. However, there may be some important lessons that can be learned that will serve producers well in the future.
The 2019 growing season was an incredibly challenging year for many soybean producers and one that many would like to forget. Because we can’t say for certain that the continuously wet spring and fall weather that occurred in 2019 will never occur again, I am encouraging soybean producers to take a critical look back and identify any lessons they learned from 2019. Management practices that worked as well as those that didn’t work should be noted and recorded. I also recommend we openly share and compare what we learned with friends and neighbors so that we can learn from each other. My takeaways from the 2019 growing season are listed below.
Soil compaction
Some of the delayed and prevented planting problems we experienced in 2019 were caused by tilling, trafficking and conducting harvest operations on wet soils in 2017 and 2018. The soil compaction caused in previous years reduced the soil’s ability to handle the heavy and frequent rains occurring in 2019. Reducing soil compaction should be a high priority in the future.
Planting date
Early planting can be an important risk management strategy as it extends the soybean planting window for producers. Planting early increased yield by 6.5 bushels per acre at one replicated on-farm trial and did not reduce yields at two others in 2019. Consider planting anytime in April when soil conditions are not too wet. Producers that plan to plant prior to April 15 should understand and mitigate the risks associated with ultra-early soybean planting.
A single tillage pass performed in the spring prior to planting did not increase soybean yields in two replicated on-farm trials in 2019. Plant soybeans without spring tillage if the soil is level and planting equipment is equipped to handle the residue. Also, keep in mind that the worst case of shallow soil compaction I’ve seen in 31 years was created by running a vertical tillage tool in wet soil conditions in the spring to dry out the soil. Producers that used this tactic in 2019 should check for a compaction zone at the operating depth of the tillage implement and break-up the compacted layer if the soil dries enough.
Seed treatment
Seed treatments are not always profitable. Only 25% of the on-farm trials conducted in 2019 showed a profitable return to using a base seed treatment (multiple fungicides plus an insecticide). Also, many seed companies would not take back treated seed or exchange it for earlier varieties in 2019. Consider this when ordering treated seed for 2020. Producers that handle bulk seed should work with downstream seed treaters to treat their seed on an as-needed basis.
Maturity group selection
Mid- and full-season varieties increased harvest risk, drying charges and discounts when planted after June 15 in 2019. Switch to early varieties when planting after June 15. Harvest risk will be reduced without sacrificing yield.
Prevent plant acres
Not all the prevent plant acres in Michigan were well-managed. These producers missed an excellent opportunity to control weeds and improve the soil for 2020. Weeds, especially marestail, were allowed to grow and produced viable seed, creating a problem for these fields and neighboring fields in 2020 (Photo 1). In addition, cover crops were not planted on a timely basis. Prevent plant acres should be managed more intensively in the future to reduce weed seed production and improve fields for the following growing season.
On-farm drying
Producers need better information on drying and storing wet soybeans. The most common problem I heard about was drying with air that was too hot, which led to excessive splitting. The split beans will reduce air flow in storage and lead to discounts at delivery. Ken Hellevang, an agricultural engineer at North Dakota State University, provides recommendations for drying and storing soybeans.
Harvest ruts
Deep harvest ruts like those shown in Photo 2 cause many problems for producers. For example, ruts created in 2018 were responsible for some of the prevent plant acres in 2019 as they remained filled with water throughout the spring. Plan ahead to avoid creating deep harvest ruts. Plant earlier, increase planting capacity, plant earlier maturing varieties and increase harvest capacity and efficiency.
We would all like to forget the 2019 growing season. However, there may be some important lessons from 2019 that will serve soybean producers well in the future.
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