Soybeans should not be a forgotten crop this year, not with market prices shooting above $12 per bushel in the first quarter of 2008. By paying a little more attention to managing no-till soybeans, you can really reap the rewards, a veteran crop consultant told attendees at the 16th annual National No-Tillage Conference in January.

Having worked with no-tilled soybeans for three decades, Mike Dailey of Mount Vernon, Ohio, outlines a number of things you can do to make your soybean production more profitable.

“No-till beans are a system, and you can’t leave out partial steps and expect those beans to be profitable,” Dailey says.

Seed Selection

There are several considerations, including whether you plant genetically modified soybeans or conventional, or even a food-grade, low-linolenic variety. If soybean cyst nematodes, Phytophthora or brown stem rot are problems, choose varieties that offer protection.

Also, match tall beans to upland areas of fields, yet select shorter beans in lowland areas to avoid lodging. Select varieties for moisture levels. Tiled fields allow earlier planting versus saturated fields.

Protect Seed

“Seed treatments are economically sound every time,” Dailey says. “I can’t think of a time when they aren’t sound.”

For example, Ohio State University (OSU) research shows that growers are sacrificing 5 to 8 bushels per acre if not using a seed-applied fungicide.

Even if you see no evidence of disease, OSU research shows yield increases of 1.6 bushels per acre. Even that can net a return of two to three times the investment.

Cruiser seed-applied insecticide is a good choice to control grubs when rotating out of sod, but use a seed treatment to ward off wireworms, sandhill cutworms and first-generation bean leaf beetle.

Inoculants Pay

The bacteria of most inoculants today are three to four times more potent than older versions.

“Inoculants are a must-have,” Dailey says. “We put inoculant on seed coming out of the gravity bed into the no-till planter, so it’s fresh and alive in the planter.”

Make sure to get inoculant once it arrives at your dealership and keep it cool, Dailey adds. You can expect a yield increase of 2 to 7 bushels per acre.

Sample at 2 Inches

Regularly soil sample at 6 to 8 inches, but sample at 2 inches occasionally. You’ll find more phosphate and potash at that 2-inch level, Dailey says, and you can save money on fertilizer.

“We are often overfertilizing due to that 8-inch sample,” he says. “In no-till, it’s cooler and damper at the surface under residue and there is more root proliferation there. That stuff is highly available because that’s the active part of your soil.”

The pH should be 6.4-plus. If soil pH levels are below 6.0, you need to add molybdenum to aid in Rhizobium root nodulation. At ph levels of 7.0 or greater, iron and manganese availability may be problematic.

Minimum phosphorus and potassium levels should be 50 to 75 in a wheat rotation, but ideally 75 to 90 in a long-term rotation.

Control Weeds Early

Pre-plant control is critical, Dailey says, and he’s increased yields 4 to 7 bushels per acre when weeds are gone before planting. Removing weeds allows for easier planting into warmer and crumbly soils, and helps avoid open slots or smeared sidewalls, Dailey adds.

Post applications of glyphosate should be completed by V4 stage on old-style Roundup Ready soybeans to avoid yield losses. Newer varieties can be sprayed up to pod formation.

“If you have tough annuals like marestail or giant ragweed, hit them early and hard to avoid resistance,” Dailey says.

Plant Narrow

Narrow rows of 7.5 to 15 inches produce the highest yields and best weed suppression, Dailey says.

He suggests planting beans in thirds: one-third early to avoid slugs and white mold; one-third at the premium time for yields; and another third later to avoid wet soils.

For 7.5-inch rows, Dailey recommends a seed spacing of 2.5 to 2.9 seeds per foot, equaling a population of 180,000 to 195,000 seeds. For 15-inch rows, go with 4.3 to 4.7 seeds per foot, or 150,000 to 165,000.

“You can cut back on populations, but you better not have slugs, pythium or phytophthora,” Dailey says. “Otherwise, you’ll drop below ideal harvest levels of 115,000 to 135,000 plants in 7.5-inch rows.”

In-Crop Pests

First-generation bean leaf beetles can bring a virus to soybeans. Scout and spray field edges for grasshoppers and Japanese beetles. Brown stinkbugs probe pods late in the season and cause diseases and rots. Soybean aphids must be sprayed once they reach 250 per plant, if populations are increasing.

Spread bait pellets to controls slugs. For a $14-per-acre investment, you can protect $33 in lost yield.

Fight In-Season Diseases

According to Dailey, spraying for diseases like frogeye leaf spot in Ohio has increased yields by 1.5 to 8 bushels per acre, making them profitable at today’s soybean prices.

An application of Cobra herbicide stresses soybeans, causing them to put out chemicals that make them more resistant to root and crown infections.

 “You will spend $6.50 per acre. You will break even some years and make $27 per acre a lot of years,” Dailey says.