The early soybean doesn’t get the worm, but it can make a farmer’s life a lot easier come harvest time.
“A lot of growers got caught with late-maturity soybeans that didn’t mature in 2014,” said University of Wisconsin agronomist Shawn Conley.
The combination of delayed spring planting, poor fall conditions, and a trend of northern growers trying their luck with later-maturity groups left many growers with a mess on their hands.
“We still have thousands of acres out in Wisconsin full of soybeans that haven’t been harvested yet,” Conley noted.
When selecting seed for 2015, farmers should consider planting a range of maturity groups that includes earlier-maturity soybean varieties, Conley and other agronomists told DTN. With some research, growers can find high-yielding varieties in earlier-maturity ranges and avoid any yield penalty, they added.
PUSHING THE BEAN
In the past five to seven years, northern soybean growers have pushed into later maturity groups, lured by the promise of higher yields, Conley explained. Shifting weather patterns that produced longer falls, and late-summer rainfalls helped the practice pay off.
“These later-maturity groups are able to capture late rainfalls during seed fill, make yield and then still make maturity and farmers get them off on time,” Conley told DTN. “So that’s led us down this path of growers pushing later and later maturities every year.”
The 2014 season was a “correction year,” he noted.
In Michigan, as storms dumped up to 3 feet of snow on northern fields, 7% of the state’s soybeans still sat in the field on Nov. 17, according to USDA Crop Progress Reports. By Dec. 1, northern Wisconsin growers had officially abandoned standing soybean fields to the winter, USDA report scouts noted.
Minnesota and Iowa growers got most of the crop out of the field in time, but quality took a hit, University of Minnesota Extension agronomist Seth Naeve told DTN. The U.S. Soybean Quality Annual Report showed a distinct drop in oil levels in southern Minnesota and northern Iowa in 2014. The drop was likely the result of too few heat units accumulated in delayed bean fields planted with late-maturity groups, Naeve noted.
THE PROS OF EARLY BEANS
A shorter-season bean can be a logistical boon for busy farmers. “Some farmers are large enough to harvest corn and soybeans simultaneously, but others have just one combine and one crew,” Naeve pointed out. Having some fields set to mature a week or even a few days earlier can make harvest run more smoothly.
Other benefits include giving farmers a jump on fall tillage and winter wheat planting, Michigan State University Extension Educator Mike Staton noted in a MSU Extension publication. Growers can also dodge common late-maturing field problems such as harvest losses, soil compaction from working wet fields, and wintry weather messes.
Growers don’t have to sacrifice yield when they move to earlier-maturing soybean variety, both Conley and Staton added.
“If you do a good job with variety selection, you can pick earlier-maturity soybeans that yield as high as the late-maturity-group beans,” Conley told DTN. In 2011, the Wisconsin Soybean Research Program examined data from nearly 900 varieties grown between 2004 and 2009 across the state.
The results “suggest that regardless of growing region in Wis., growers can select a variety that is almost one full maturity group earlier than the optimal maturity group range for maximum yield and still be within 10% of maximum yield,” Conley explained in his blog, The Soy Report.
Likewise, an analysis of soybean yield and maturity groups in Michigan showed that “yield is not affected by maturity group as long as the highest-yielding varieties are selected within the adapted range of maturity groups for the area,” Staton reported.
Finding those highest-yielding varieties can be a challenge, however. “Part of the challenge for growers is that these varieties are turning over so fast on the soybean side, that they may not have good data,” Conley said. As companies rush to add new varieties, the accuracy of their maturity ratings can slip, Naeve added. Fortunately, in most states, growers can comb through university variety tests and get reliable, third-party information on yield and performance.
MIXING IT UP
Pushing the maturity envelope has paid off for many northern growers in the past five to seven years, Conley noted. One troublesome year doesn’t mean growers should fill their planters with shorter-season beans, but selecting a variety of maturity groups would be wise.
“Way too often, farmers don’t have enough variety differentiation in the field,” he said. “I’m encouraging growers to plant a small subset of their soybeans at a relatively early maturity, a majority in an optimal maturity group range, and a small subset — say 20% — in a later-maturity group range.”
Such an approach would allow farmers to benefit from long falls or late-summer rains without putting their entire acreage at risk should conditions change.
Naeve stressed the importance of changing varieties when planting is delayed. “If growers get in a situation where they have late planting and they’re already planting long-season varieties, they need to be very aggressive about switching those varieties earlier and getting new ones from the companies,” he said.