Author Archives: David Holshouser

About David Holshouser

David serves as Associate Professor & Extension Agronomist at Virginia Tech’s Tidewater Agricultural Research and Extension Center. He provides leadership for agronomic extension and research programs that lead to profitable and environmentally-responsible agriculture.

Greater Yields are Possible for Double-Crop Soybean in 2017!

It appears that wheat harvest will be 1 to 2 weeks ahead of schedule this year.  We actually harvested some high-moisture wheat and planted soybean plots behind it today (May 31) in northeast N.C.  This is good news for soybean.  Earlier planting means greater yields!  This is clearly shown by the recent data obtained from our multi-state, multi-year double-crop project.

With earlier planting, have my recommendations for double-crop soybean changed?  In general no.  But below are a few things to consider.

Seeding Rate:  In general, you can probably back off on your seeding rates from what you were planning if you get your double-crop soybean in by mid-June.  I’d suggest that you start out with 120-160,000 seed/acre (depending on when you start planting) and gradually ramp that up by 20-30,000 for each week delay in planting.  For more information, see my recent blog, Soybean Seeding Rates for June and Later.

Relative Maturity:  Actually, my standard recommendation still stands, more or less.  Plant as late of a relative maturity (RM) as possible that will mature before the frost.  However, there are now some caveats.   By planting a week earlier, you’ll gain about 3 days in maturity.  Although a slightly later RM may work, I wouldn’t count on it – frost date will affect this more than planting date.  So, don’t plant a later RM.

But, can you plant an earlier RM, say go from an early-5 to a late-4?  Possibly.  Why do I say this?  Two things.  First, by planting a week or two earlier you have greater yield potential (see the above graph), which is due to the ability to grow more leaves.  So your yields are not necessarily so dependent on leaf area as they are with a late-June to early-July planting.  A slightly earlier RM planting in early- to mid-June will only have slightly less leaf area than a later RM.  And, we have generally found that under greater yield potentials, early RM will yield more than later ones.  Still, these are not great reasons to change your RM.  Generally, stick with what you planned.

Soybean Seeding rates for June and Later

Due to the rainy weather over the past two weeks, we are still planting full-season soybean in some areas.  In addition, it appears that wheat harvest is not far off (some wheat at the Tidewater AREC was at 23% moisture today!).  So, should we be increasing our seeding rates?

In general, yes.  But, big increases probably will not be needed until late-June.  Below are some seeding rate data that we collected from soybean planted in early-June after barley.  First, we don’t have a lot of data of soybean grown after barley, so I don’t have as much confidence in the exact seeding rate needed.  Note that there is a wide range in the optimal seeding rates, illustrated by the area between the dotted lines in the graph.  Although, these data may not directly apply to full-season soybean (no small grain), it should be close.

I think that we should now be using 120,000 to 160,000 seed/acre.  The range will depend on the planting date.  In general, I’d suggest bumping up your seeding by 20-30,000 seed/acre per week through June.

If you remember the seeding rate data that I shared in this blog last month for May-planted soybean (see Soybean Seeding Rates – How Low Can We Go?), I stated that maximum yields could be obtained with only 95,000 to 110,000 seed/acre when the yield potential is greater than 40 bushels/acre.  That’s pretty low, but was adequate for maximum yield under good growth conditions.  For less than 40 bushel potential, seeding rates needed to be a little higher.   In the above graph, it appears that more seed is needed to obtain 55 to 70 bushels/acre after barley, I cannot fully explain why; therefore, I would assume that this response is primarily due to the location that we obtained the data (again, we don’t have a lot of data).

Once we get into mid- to late-June, I’d rather see a seeding rate of 180,000 to 220,000 seed/acre, depending on planting date.  This is based on the data to the right.    You’ll notice that, like full-season soybean, the optimal seeding rate falls with greater yields.  This is most likely due to greater leaf area with those high-yielding locations.  As I’ve stated often, the seeding rate response can usually be traced back to whether or not the crop developed enough leaf area to capture 90-95% of the light by early pod development.  Unfortunately, I don’t have any double-crop data planted following wheat with yields greater than 55 bushels/acre.  I hope to solve that problem this year with new experiments.

Should you inoculate your soybean?

Soybean, being a high protein crop, require more nitrogen than any other nutrient. Fortunately, through a symbiotic relationship with soil bacteria, soybean is able to fix its own nitrogen.  You can easily see this relationship with bacteria by examining the roots for nodules.  If there are plenty of nodules and they are pink inside, the nitrogen-fixing process is working and no nitrogen needs to be applied to soybean.  However, if nodules do not form, you could end up with a field similar to the one shown on the right.  Below are what the roots looked like.

To insure that you have enough nitrogen for your soybean, you can use an inoculant containing the soil bacteria Bradyrhizobium japonicum.  Do soybean inoculants work?  Yes.  As long as the bacteria is still alive when you put it in the soil.

Do you need to inoculate your soybean seed?  Maybe.  If you’ve never grown soybean in the field that you plan to plant them, definitely add the inoculant to your seed.  Or better, inject a liquid inoculant into the furrow (you’ll get 3 to 4 times the amount of bacteria).  Also, if you don’t have a long history of soybean in the field, inoculate; it will likely pay off.

But what if you are rotating the land to soybean on a regular basis?  You are not likely to get a yield response.  In a 2-year study on soils that were rotated regularly with soybean, I only found 1 of 18 sites that responded to an inoculant.  And the site that responded was land that had only been in production for less than 5 years (formerly pine trees).  In all fairness, one inoculant product at one other location (SUF DC, 2012) did yield more than the untreated check.

Inoculant Expts 2012-13There are some caveats that I should mention.  Sometimes, a yield response if more probable.  If you haven’t grown soybean in the last 4 to 5 years, then it may be good insurance.  If the field was flooded or if it experienced extreme drought conditions in the previous year, bacteria might have died off; therefore, there is a greater likelihood of a yield response to the inoculant.

In summary, inoculants do work and they are good insurance treatments.  But, they will rarely result in a yield benefit if the field has been regularly rotated to soybean.

If you do decide to use an inoculant, follow the label closely.  I prefer to apply the inoculant as close to planting as possible.  Note that certain chemical seed treatments (including molybdenum or “Moly”) can injure or kill the bacteria.  The less time that these chemicals are in contact with the bacteria, the better.

Soybean Seeding Rates – How Low Can We Go?

It seems that everything that you read about soybean seeding rates is that we are planting too many seed.  In general, I agree – at least for full-season soybean.  We still seem to have that mindset that it takes 1 bag of seed per acre.  But many of you have been listening and are taking the seeding rate down to 100,000 to 120,000 seed per acre, with no noticeable difference in yield.   But, can you go lower?  And how low can you go?

To help answer this question, we have re-analyzed about 10 years of data that we collected from dozens of experiments conducted from 2003 through 2011.  But instead of just looking at average yield response, we separated these responses into soybean yield potentials.

Why did we do this?  I’ve always thought that more seed is needed to maximize yield on low-yielding fields (or portions of fields) and less seed are needed or high-yielding fields or portions of fields.  Yes, this means that I’m asking you to spend more money on the least profitable fields and less money on the most profitable fields.  Still, this strategy will likely be more profitable over all acres.

There are a few things worth noting about the graphs to the left.  First, I’ve separated the data into low (20-40 Bu/A), medium (40-55 Bu/A), and high (55-70 Bu/A) groupings.  We decided on these levels by analyzing the data over and over at many different yield levels.  The resulting three levels were most stable and predictive.

Second, we used two statistical methods to fit a curve to the data to intentionally give us a range of seeding rates needed to maximize yield.  This allow us to recognize the variability in the data and reflects our confidence in the response.  Pay particular attention to the wide range of seeding rates necessary to maximize yield at the 20 to 35 bushel yield potential.  This reflects the yield variability and the variability in the response of yield to seeding rates that are common in low-yielding years or fields.  We just are not as confident in this set of data.  Some years or locations, we could get by with 100,000 seed/acre; in others, it took more than 140,000.  With the other yield potentials, the range is pretty tight.  In other words, I have more confidence in recommending 110,000 or even less than 100,000 seed/acre in these instances.

Finally, we see that it takes, in general, less seed at high yields – which verifies my earlier statement that less seed are needed for higher yield potentials.

So what have I settled on?  Below are my suggestions.

But, you may ask, “What about yields greater than 70 bushels per acre?  That’s a good question.  But, I cannot answer it confidently since we have little data in that range.  We are however conducting new experiments this summer to update our data.

But until that data is available, here are my thoughts.  I think that lower seeding rates will work until you get to the 100+ bushel yield range.  After that, I suspect that we are running low on reproductive nodes (node on the plant where pods can form).  For instance, if we only have 80,000 plants/acre, we would need 15 reproductive nodes containing 4 pods on every one of these nodes!  While this is possible, I’m assuming in this calculation that we will grow 2,500 seed/pound and 3.0 seed/pod. Taking that down to a more normal 2800 seed/pound and 2.5 seed/pod, that means we need 6 pods per node!  I think that we are starting the expect a little much from single plant in this case.

So, for 100+ bushel yield environments, I’d suggest to gradually increase your seeding rate from the ones suggested above.  I do understand that we have very few 100+ bushels fields, but I have seen parts of the field exceeding this when I’m watching a yield monitor.   An we commonly have plots within our small-plot tests exceeding 90 and 100 bushels.

Finally, am I suggesting that we may be able to vary our soybean seeding rate as we do corn?  Yes, I’m suggesting that.  We will be validating some variable-rate-seeding (VRS) on two farmer’s fields this year.  If you know of anyone who has VRS planters and who would like to participate in an on-farm test, let me know.

2016 Soybean Yield Contest

The Virginia Soybean Association in cooperation with Virginia Cooperative Extension would like to announce the 2016 Virginia Soybean Yield Contest. The purpose of the Virginia Soybean Yield Contest is to emphasize and demonstrate the practices necessary to produce maximum economic yields, to recognize those producers who grow high-yielding soybeans, and to gather data on the practices utilized by these outstanding producers. With the help of various seed companies, we reward and promote the achievements of Virginia’s most productive soybean farmers.

There are four Soybean Yield Contest categories: 1) Full-Season, Non-irrigated; 2) Double-Crop, Non-irrigated; and 3) Irrigated (Full-Season or Double-Crop; and 4) Most Efficient Yield (MEY). First, second, and third place winners of the full-season, double-crop, and irrigated contest will be recognized with appropriate trophies or plaques. In addition, cash awards of $200, $100, and $50 will be presented to the first, second, and third place winners in each of these categories. The winner of the MEY contest will receive a plaque declaring him or her the most efficient soybean producer in Virginia for that year.

Printable entry forms and contest details can be obtained from your County Agent or on the Soybean Extension and Research website.

Timely harvest will minimize seed quality problems

The map below shows the amount of rainfall received in Virginia over the last 14 days.  And the weather forecast is calling for more.  While this rain may still help our double-crop soybean, early-planted early-maturing varieties will run the risk of seed quality problems if they are not harvested soon after maturity.Precip Analysis 092716For details of the main diseases that cause these problems, I refer to you to a blog from last fall (Oct 16) when seed quality problems were horrendous –  Soybean Seed Quality Continues to Deteriorate. 

But to review, the seed decaying diseases are worse when wet weather is combined with relatively warm conditions, like we are having now.  Early-maturing varieties, especially those planted in April and early-May will have the worst seed quality because they are maturing during a warmer time of the year.  I’m most concerned about maturity group (MG) III and IV soybeans; MG V’s are not yet mature.  Last year, later-maturing varieties fared better than early varieties, as shown in the 2015 variety test data below.  We rate seed on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being a perfect seed and 5 being an unsaleable product.  Usually, anything averaging 2.5 or less is pretty good seed.  Double-crop soybean seed quality is always better since they are maturing during a cooler time of the year.Seed Quality 2015

What can you do to minimize these disease?  Harvest as soon as possible.  Phomopsis seed decay will only get worse the longer that you leave mature plants in the field.  And pray for cooler and dryer conditions in October and November.

You’re Invited to the 2016 Virginia Ag Expo August 4th at Double B Farms in Dinwiddie

“Celebrating Southside Virginia’s Agricultural Diversity” is the theme for the 2016 Virginia Ag Expo. The Virginia Ag Expo is the largest field day held annually in the Commonwealth of Virginia. As an educational, marketing, and social event, farmers and agribusiness look forward to the Virginia Ag Expo each year.

This year the Ag Expo will be held in Dinwiddie County on August 4th. The location, Double “B” Farms, is owned and operated by Billy Bain. Double “B” Farms is a large diversified farming operation consisting of 3,500 plus acres of crops, consisting of: corn, soybeans, wheat, peanuts, cotton, forage, and a beef cattle herd.

In the field, There will be demos, research and discussions on Cotton, Sorghum, Peanuts, Forage, Beef Cattle, Sweet Potatoes, Small Fruits, Niche Pork, Soybeans, Field Corn, Tobacco, and Integrated Pest Management along with drone demonstration, soil pit demo and fertility work.

Over 150 exhibitors and sponsors will have on display all of the most up to date equipment, goods and services for agricultural producers and property owners no matter how large or small. Field tours will also be presented by many of Virginia’s top agricultural researchers and Cooperative Extension Agents and Specialists.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Event Opens at 7:30am

Field Plot Tours Start at 8:20am

Double B Farms

19509 Bain Road

Dinwiddie , VA 23841

Field Plot Tour Include:

  • Corn & Soybean Variety Plots
  • Demonstration Plots of: Corn, Soybean, Cotton, Sorghum, Peanuts, Forage, Cover Crops, Beef Cattle, Sweet Potatoes, Small Fruits, Niche Pork, Tobacco, and Integrated Pest Management
  • Soil Pit Demo
  • Fertility Research
  • Nematode & Weed Control  Plots
  • UAS/Drone Demonstration
  • Live Feeder Calf Grading Demonstrations

The Virginia Ag Expo is sponsored by the Virginia Grains Producers Association and the Virginia Soybean Association, in cooperation with the Virginia Cooperative Extension Service.

For media inquiries please contact Ben Rowe at Ben@VirginiaGrains.com or 804-726-6022

Do we need to bump up our soybean seeding rates?

It’s hard to believe, but June is here and we need to start thinking about increasing our soybean seeding rates.  I’ve been recommending only 100 to 115 thousand seeds per acre for full-season production, enough to give you 70 to 80 thousand plants – yes, that’s all you need to maximize yield.

But as the season gets shorter, yields will start falling with delays in planting date.  On average, we lose about 1/2 bushel/acre per every day we delay planting after the middle of June.  The graph below shows the results of last year’s 4-state early wheat harvest/soybean planting double-crop study.  Note that yield does not decline very much during the first week or two of June, but rapidly drops off afterwards.

2015 DC Soy Yield across Plant DateThe main reason for this yield decline is that the crop struggles to develop enough leaf area to capture 90-95% of the sunlight by early pod development, due to the shorter growing season.  We can alleviate some of this by narrowing rows and increasing seeding rate.

I usually suggest that farmers plant enough seed to result in a final plant population of 180,000 plants/acre for double-crop soybean.  That means planting 200,000 to 220,000 seed/acre.  Yes that is a lot of seed, but my research shows that yields (and profit) continue to increase up to this seeding rate, especially when planting is delayed until late-June and early-July.

There are stipulations.  More productive soils and irrigated soybean usually require less seed.  Good years that allow lots of quick growth require less seed (but who can predict a good year?).  Later maturity groups may require slightly less seed.  Less seed are needed as you move south (growing season is longer and you can plant a later relative maturity).  I think that a soil profile that is full of water at soybean planting (this year) might allow less seed to be planted – but I have not documented that – It just makes sense to me that plants will grow better when the small grain has not depleted most of the subsoil moisture.

What about now?  How many seed/acre do we need to plant in the first week of June?  Here are my suggestions.  Keep in mind that these are general guidelines; you need a gradual increase in seed/acre.  I’m assuming 80 to 85% emergence for June/July plantings.  To easily determine how many seed you need per row foot, see VCE pub 3006-1447, Suggested Soybean Seeding Rates for Virginia

May: 100 to 115K

June 1-7:  120-140K

June 8-14: 140-180K

June 15-21: 180-200K

June 22-30: 200-220K

July: 220-250K

Avoid Seedling Disease with Quality Seed, Proper Seed Placement, & Good Soil-To-Seed Contact

We were hoping to be about half way finished with our soybean plantings by now, but we haven’t put a planter in the field in two weeks.  The rain continues to delay us, but I hope that we will get back into the field next week.

The rain and cooler weather has lowered soil temperatures somewhat and this means that we need to take a few extra precautions, especially pertaining to seedling disease.  I wrote a detailed blog a few years ago on seedling disease; little has changed and, for more details, you can view that blog here:

Fungal Seedling Disease in Soybean

Planting soybean in cool soil will lead to delayed emergence and increased chance of seedling disease that can reduce stands, weaken emerged plants, and inhibit early-season growth. I stress that the greater time required for emergence, the greater probability that the seed will become infected with soil-borne disease.  If you are planting into cool soils, I strongly suggest using fungicide-treated seed as an insurance against seedling disease. These treatments will protect the seed and seedling if emergence is delayed.

But, seed treatments should not be a substitute for other practices that encourage rapid seedling emergence.  Here is my checklist for insuring a good stand free of seedling disease:

  • Know the germination and vigor of your seed; adjust the seeding rate accordingly.
  • Insure good soil-to-seed contact by properly setting your planter to cut through the residue and penetrate to the proper depth.
  • Plant soybean seed ¾ to 1 inch deep into good soil moisture.  Planting deeper will delay emergence
  • Consider fungicide seed treatments if planting into cool soils.

Do You Need To Inoculate Your Soybean?

Do soybean inoculants work?  Yes.  Soybean cannot fix its own nitrogen without the symbiotic relationship formed between the roots and a soil bacteria called Bradyrhizobium japonicum. Soybean inoculant contains this bacteria.

Do you need to inoculate your soybean seed?  Maybe.  If you’ve never grown soybean in the field that you plan to plant them, definitely add the inoculant to your seed.  Or better, inject some liquid into the furrow (you’ll get 3 to 4 times the amount of bacteria).  Also, if you don’t have a long history of soybean in the field, inoculate; it will likely pay off.

But what if you are rotating the land to soybean on a regular basis?  You are not likely to get a yield response.  In a 2-year study on soils that were rotated regularly with soybean, I only found 1 of 18 sites that responded to an inoculant.  And the site that responded was land that had only been in production for less than 5 years (formerly pine trees).  In all fairness, one inoculant product at one other location (SUF DC, 2012) did yield more than the untreated check.

Inoculant Expts 2012-13There are some caveats that I should mention.  Sometimes, a yield response if more probable.  If you haven’t grown soybean in the last 4 to 5 years, then it may be good insurance.  If the field was flooded or if it experienced extreme drought conditions in the previous year, bacteria might have died off; therefore, there is a greater likelihood of a yield response to the inoculant.

In summary, inoculants do work and they are good insurance treatments.  But, they will rarely result in a yield benefit if the field has been regularly rotated to soybean.

If you do decide to use an inoculant, follow the label closely.  I prefer to apply the inoculant as close to planting as possible.  Note that certain chemical seed treatments (including molybdenum or “Moly”) can injure or kill the bacteria.  The less time that these chemicals are in contact with the bacteria, the better.