Three No-Till Innovators took the stage at the 2023 National No-Tillage Conference in St. Louis, Mo., for a rapid-fire discussion about no-till soybeans. Allen Berry, a 2008 No-Till Innovator from Nauvoo, Ill., along with Ross Bishop and Stanley Miller, two southeastern Wisconsin no-tillers who are part of the 2022 No-Till Innovator group Cedar Creek Farmers, shared these seven spring soybean tips to help set you up for a profitable year:
Select the right planting equipment.
Berry: “I believe the right equipment needs to be a planter, not a drill, so that you can get your seed quantity adjusted more accurately, and everything you put in the ground can get up. When we're spending $60-70 or more a unit for seed, you've got to start looking at seed costs. I think that makes the drill much less desired.”
Lower your soybean planting population.
Bishop: “I use a corn planter, and I have row cleaners planting the corn. I find that we've been able to lower our population to 120,000-130,000. That seems to be a sweet spot for us in Wisconsin. I've done it less, and you can start to see some weeds come in.”
Miller: “Years back, I was planting 30-inch rows, and I was in the 160,000 range for seed population. Now I'm down to 135,000 depending on weather and stuff like that. I am seeing yields go up with less seed.”
Plant soybeans on an angle.
Berry: “We use a 15-inch planter, a 40-foot planter with splitters, and we seed soybeans at a little bit of an angle to the cornstalks. That way those row units are continually changing how they approach the residue from the standing corn stalks. Our corn rows are planted in the most efficient way to plant the field. When we come in with the beans, we just take a small angle. Usually with our 40-foot planter, we're probably going to be about 2-3 planter widths off in a quarter-mile run to give you an idea. It's not a real sharp angle at all.”
Plant in narrow rows.
Berry: “In studying university results, you'll almost always find that the narrower rows, the higher the yield for soybeans. In Monmouth, Ill., for 10-15 years, they did studies comparing the yield of different row widths, and the old drills always were the highest yielding because they were generally 7.5-inch or 10-inch spacing, and the wider the rows got at 15 inches, you give up a little bit, at 20 inches maybe a hair more and even more at 30 inches.
“Now in Illinois, quite a few people want to buy these 60-foot and bigger planters, and they're moving away from the 15-inch beans and planting them in 30-inch rows. When you do that, you're definitely going to give up yield. You better go buy an old Kinze planter at reasonable sale and keep those beans in a 15-inch because of that yield loss when you move to those wider rows.”
Have a good row cleaner.
Miller: “When no-tilling soybeans into corn stalks, have a good row cleaner to keep that trash away, so your seed is planted at the proper depth in uniform.”
Choose the right maturity.
Berry: “If I’m planting earlier-season beans, I always want to plant those first. We'll plant a 2.8, 2.9 or 3.0, and I want to plant in April so they get some growth. Otherwise, they really suffer later in the year. We're in a double crop area where we plant beans after wheat, and we always use a 3.8 or so maturity in that area. You don't plant a short season bean late because they won't get any vegetative growth at all. They start flowering, and they just don't do much.”
Bishop: “I always plant a 2.5 maturity bean, and when I ran the combine through the field, I saw an 80-85 bushel average, but in spots, it averaged 65. Where I planted May 10 averaged just 2 bushels less. What I saw in 2022 was a 63-bushel average across the full farm. I had some 1.9 beans, and of course along the trees I got hardly anything, but in the middle of the field, I was hitting 90-92 bushels. That was beans planted into a 10-way mix of cover crops after wheat. We're seeing a huge benefit from planting into a mix. You got to have a cocktail to bring that biology alive. With no-till and cover crops, you will see your ground explode in yields.”
Handle soybean seed with care.
Berry: “One simple tip I think that everybody needs to be aware of is to handle your soybean seed like it is a living organism because it is. I know a lot of people tend to toss the old 50-pound bags. Handle the seed gently. If you're running augers, you need to be using belts to move it on so you don’t get splits. That's a live organism in there. Handle him gently, and don't fool with him in subzero temperatures because you're going to damage him more. Protect your seed.”