Michigan Soybeans: Planting – Be Patient Yet Prudent About Wet Weather

Planting no-till soybeans. Photo: Mike Staton, Michigan State University

The weather-induced planting delays have many producers feeling pressured to plant soybeans. It seems like this is an important time to remember that 2016 was also a challenging planting season, yet we produced record soybean yields in the state. The table shows the 2016 soybean planting progress in Michigan.

Soybean planting progress in Michigan
Date 2016 2011-2015 average
Percentage planted
May 9 7 12
May 15 14 28
May 22 34 48
May 29 34 48
June 5 88 80
June 12 95 93

Source: USDA – Economics Statistics and Market Information System

I want to encourage soybean producers to be patient and avoid fitting or planting your fields when the soil is too wet. These scenarios can increase the potential for soil crusting and sidewall compaction, and both conditions are detrimental. However, I also want to list some opportunities for speeding up planting operations this spring and urge producers to identify their own ways to increase planting capacity.

Eliminate or reduce tillage operations

If the soil surface is level and your planter, drill or air seeder is equipped to plant through the existing residue, consider planting without additional tillage. This practice has the additional benefits of eliminating the risk of tilling the soil when it is too wet and conserving soil moisture if dry conditions occur later this spring or summer.

If herbicide-resistant marestail has been a problem, the field should be tilled or sprayed with an effective burndown prior to planting. Also, remember that Liberty and the labeled dicamba herbicides (XtendiMax, FeXapan, and Engenia) are the only effective post-emergence herbicide options for multiple-resistant marestail.

Liberty can be applied only to LibertyLink soybeans and the labeled dicamba products can only be applied to Roundup Ready 2 Xtend soybeans. Also, there are many guidelines and precautions for dicamba use in Roundup Ready 2 Xtend soybean producers must follow. These are listed on pages 101 to 103 in the 2019 Weed Control Guide for Field Crops.

Planting speed

Unless you have a planter that was originally built for higher speeds or have modified the planter for higher speeds by installing seed belt delivery equipment and hydraulic down pressure, significantly increasing your planting speed much above 5 to 5.5 miles per hour is not recommended in most situations.

Consider eliminating starter fertilizers (pop-up and 2-by-2)

Starter fertilizers (pop-up and 2-by-2) have a low probability of increasing soybean yields and profitability when soil test phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) levels are above the critical levels and maintenance rates of P and K have been or will be applied. In Michigan on-farm trials, pop-up fertilizer was profitable at two of eight locations and 2-by-2 starter fertilizer was profitable in five of 18 locations.

Estimate your soybean planting capacity

Understanding the planting capacity of your specific equipment can help you be more patient and be more efficient once the weather breaks and soils dry out.  Use the following formula to calculate soybean planting capacity:

[(speed in mph x planting width in feet) ÷ 8.25] x efficiency factor = acres planted per hour

For example, a single-fill, 40-foot air seeder operated at 5 mph and tended with bulk seed handling equipment can cover 19.4 acres per hour [(5 mph x 40 feet) ÷ 8.25] x .80 = 19.4 acres per hour. The efficiency factor drops to .65 when bagged seed is used or when filling individual row unit hoppers.

Increase planting capacity per day

If you can’t increase your speed, you have two alternatives for increasing soybean planting capacity: operate existing equipment for longer hours, or lease a drill or air seeder and hire additional labor to operate and tend it. The first option will require planting in shifts and may not be feasible when planting into heavy residues, as the evening dews will make the stalks tough and harder to plant through.

Inventory and rank your fields based on planting order

Not all fields will be ready to plant at the same time. There are four factors that determine this: soil texture, soil structure, drainage (tile or surface) and amount of precipitation received. Most producers know which fields are likely to dry out first based on texture, structure and drainage. However, rain events are often localized and this should be considered also.

Waiting for good soil and weather conditions to occur and making plans for speeding up planting operations will benefit soybean producers this spring.

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