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Understand Breeding Priorities for Early Planted Soybean

Understand Breeding Priorities for Early Planted Soybean

By Sonja Begemann

By the time March rolls around, many farmers are itching to get into their planters and get the season started. While corn normally is first at-bat, soybeans are quickly moving up in the order and sometimes take priority over corn fields.

“In some geographic regions in the Midwest, each additional day growers provide soybeans can give them up to a half bu. per acre yield increase,” says Shawn Conley, University of Wisconsin Extension soybean agronomist. “That’s been a big driving factor in the shift toward earlier planted soybeans — often before they put corn in.”

It’s a potential yield increase that doesn’t cost a dime, it just takes a shift in thinking. And it’s a practice that is taking the upper Midwest, virtually all of the Corn Belt, by storm. For seed companies, it’s an opportunity to provide farmers with varieties catered to their new production style.

Improve Harvest and Conditioning

The seed genetics, treatment and information provided to customers who plant soybeans early is different than traditional growers. This is because the crop is exposed to colder soils, diseases and other pests at a different time in the year.

“One thing seed companies have done is enabled even better seed quality,” says Jim Schweigert, Gro Alliance president. “They’ve invested in a lot better seed handling equipment, facilities and practices.”

Mechanical damage, insect and disease damage and other processing concerns could cripple early-season soybeans. Technology for seed conditioning and packaging is far-and-away better than ever before, minimizing this risk.

“Even if you look back five years ago, there were a lot of small facilities that cleaned seed and they just didn’t have the right investment to maximize quality like we do today,” Schweigert adds.

Some of the most important changes to seed processing include: Using continuous cup elevators because traditional steel grain legs can whip soybeans and cause mechanical damage; employing belt systems because augers can, again, cause mechanical damage to soybeans; adding color sorters to get kick out the lower quality soybeans more accurately overall to create higher quality lots; and working with growers who fully understand the time, effort and equipment investments required to grow high-quality seed.

“This might take investment by growers, so we make sure the contract we provide is attractive enough so they can afford to meet the production standards we hold them to,” Schweigert says. “It’s all about selecting the right growers.

In addition to physically caring for the seeds, companies test the viability with a critical eye. Some of this extra information is invaluable to growers.

“One thing we really encourage farmers who want to try early planted soybeans to look into additional seed vigor tests such as the cold test,” Conley says. “It’s typically not provided in seed guide materials, so we encourage them to ask for the information or to have the seed tested themselves.”

Because the seed is going into cold soil that might take weeks to warm up to typical condition, cold germination scores could be a critical comparison tool farmers use to pick seed varieties.

Opportunity for Genetic Improvements

Because genetics are what truly determines yield potential, it’s critical that seed companies consider what genetic improvements can be made for early-planted soybeans.

“For example, we use a lot of pre-emergent herbicides and that’s one thing that can have a little bit of stress on soybean seedlings as they absorb it,” says Don Kyle, Corteva Agriscience soybean breeding zone evaluation lead. “So, having varieties that include native genes that help metabolize and protect that seedling from those herbicides is pretty important.”

Farmers aren’t just planting short-season varieties early. In fact, longer maturing soybeans are preferred because they have a longer reproductive window to add yield. So, when investing in new genetics target a wide swath of maturities.

Here are a few more key factors to consider in the breeding process when it comes to early-planted soybeans, according to Kyle:

  • Early flowering to extend the reproductive period.
  • Lodging resistance because as the plant adds pods, it gets heavy.
  • Strong disease package, namely against early-season diseases and sudden death syndrome.
  • Soybean cyst nematode tolerance because the plant is exposed longer, and during more vulnerable times. (And not just P88788 tolerance as SCN is largely resistant to this genetic package.)

“We converted our research programs to earlier planting — that April timeframe,” Kyle adds. “It lets us really sort out genetic yield potential and how it responds in reality as early planting gets more and more popular.”

Responding to grower demands — or in this case, practice changes — can help set seed companies apart in the competitive market. Early planted soybeans are a trend that seems to have legs, and one to watch.

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