Little things add up to better soybean profits

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COLUMBUS – With some agricultural economists predicting soybean prices diving to the $3-per-bushel range, not much elbow room will left for a profit in 2001, even with great yields.

To remain profitable, growers will have to manage the crop well, limit costs, and market for the top dollar, said Ohio State University agronomist Jim Beuerlein.

“For most producers, the easiest and most effective approach is to reduce the cost of production without reducing yield,” Beuerlein said.

Increase yields:

To produce top yields, Beuerlein suggests:

* Drilling beans as early as soil conditions allow, because planting date and row spacing together account for 50 percent of yield.

* Selecting disease-resistant varieties and using fungicide seed treatments. Good disease control accounts for 20 percent of yield.

* Designing a good weed control program, which accounts for 15 percent of yield.

* Checking the soil pH and potash levels, and calibrating the drill for the desired seeding rate. Soil fertility and seeding rate account for 7 percent and 5 percent of yield, respectively.

* Treating seed with the proper fungicides. Seeding rates for Roundup-Ready varieties can be reduced to 125,000 seeds per acre, and normal varieties to 150,000 seeds per acre, without yield loss. The lowered rates assume 75 percent stand establishment.

Production costs.

If you’ve done everything possible to increase yield, look at cutting production costs by:

* Using reduced tillage or no-till.

* Avoiding fertilization if soil test levels are above the yield response level. Soil pH should be above 6.0. Soil phosphate should be 15 parts per million (PPM) or greater. Soil K should be about 165 ppm, 190 ppm, or 215 ppm for a soil cation exchange capacity of 10, 20 and 30, respectively. Don’t apply nitrogen to soybeans, especially with this year’s shortages and high prices.

* Buying small seeds. Soybean seed is sold in 50-pound units, so small seeds allow farmers to plant more acres per unit.

* Using public-certified seeds to control costs. Land-grant universities develop public varieties to have characteristics tailored to local conditions. Consequently, public varieties yield well and have good resistance to diseases persistent in local areas.

* Buying varieties with years of proven performance, not new, expensive ones. Choose varieties in the top 25 percent of yield trials.

* Selecting varieties with as much disease resistance and tolerance as possible. Such varieties don’t cost any more than susceptible ones. Ohio farmers lose 6-12 bushels per acre annually to disease.

* Reducing rates of postemergence herbicides, for low to moderate weed pressures in non-Roundup-Ready varieties.

* Resisting the urge to keep grain for seed. Yield losses from saved seed are almost always greater than any seed cost savings. If you must use bin-run seed, check the seed quality by having a germination test performed before spending time and money on cleaning and treating.

* Avoiding products with no university test data to back up claims.

OSU trials.

About half of the 500 commercial soybean varieties sold are tested in OSU trials, Beuerlein said.

“Varieties not entered are usually poorer performers. Selecting a variety that was in that test and had a yield greater than the test average gets you in the top 25 percent of varieties.”

A variety that yields above average by more than the least squares difference value listed in the report table is in the top 10 percent of varieties, with similar performance and yield potential.

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