Soybean South

The Early Bean Gets The Cheese

Southern farmers plant more Group IIIs and IVs
to achieve higher yields.


By Carroll Smith

Historically in the South, soybeans were the last crop to go in the ground and the last to be harvested. Planting time was T-shirt weather, but when farmers climbed on their combines late in the fall, they often sported jackets and gloves.

Today that scenario has flip-flopped as more and more soybean producers are planting early-maturing varieties early and getting them out of the field during August and the first part of September. In most cases, the trend is being fueled by improved varieties and better weather conditions at bloom and early pod set, resulting in higher yields and a bigger bottom line.

Brad Jones, who farms 1,500 acres of rice and soybeans with his father Charles near Cleveland, Miss., says the cost of irrigation also figures into the equation.

“We usually get a fair amount of rain in the early spring, so we try to plant as many early beans as possible,” Jones says. “This year we planted mostly Group IVs, - Pioneer 94B73 – but next year we’re going to plant Group IIIs and Group IVs.”

When choosing his bean varieties, Jones studies the results of the official variety trials to see which ones did best on the type of soil he has.

“I go for the highest yield I can get,” Jones says. “We usually average about 50 bushels per acre.”

Good drainage is critical
According to Mississippi soybean specialist Alan Blaine, adequate drainage is very important in early-planted beans.

“My biggest concern is getting into some flood rains and extended super-saturated wet conditions,” Blaine says.

“This can cause seed to rot and some stunting on the front end that we can never overcome. But you can’t predict it. That’s why we need to have good drainage in early-planted fields.”

In the Joneses’ case, they are conscious of the need for good drainage because all of their land is irrigated. A few years ago they bought a 30-foot Eddins Roller that goes behind the tractor and has sweeps on it.

“My Dad talked about the need for an implement like this 15 years ago before they were ever manufactured,” Jones says. “Essentially, it puts up a bed, but the main thing it does is make furrows for the irrigation water. If you were to ride past our fields, you would think we had rowed up. Actually, all the roller is doing is slicking off the top and cutting a furrow, so when we are irrigating and draining, we don’t have any problems.”

No-till dryland beans
Terry Longmire, who rotates dryland cotton and beans in West Tennessee says his highest yields have come from planting late Group IIIs (3.9) and early IVs (4.4).

“I like to plant the 3.9s in mid-April before we start planting cotton,” Longmire says. “Then we can harvest them in early September.

“The early-maturing varieties benefit from the rains that we get in early summer. As opposed to Group Vs, a lot of times we will get past bloom and early pod set with the earlier maturing varieties before it gets real hot and dry in this area.”

For the past four years, Longmire has planted Garst 399 R, (late III). The west Tennessee farmer says that variety has been a consistent good yielder with a good disease package. He also planted Asgrow 4502 R and Progeny 4401 R.

“Those three were our best varieties this year,” he says. “We plant on 15-inch flat rows, 90 percent no-till. The only time we don’t have no-till beans is if we have rutted the fields up in the fall. That’s another benefit of planting late IIIs and early IVs. You cut your beans before it ever gets muddy.”

How early is early?
“As for planting dates, our sentinel plot system allowed us to see that we haven’t scratched the surface of what we can do in the Mid-South with early planting,” Blaine says. “Of our 23 plots, we got 18 of them in between Feb. 17 and March 18. That’s early, and we didn’t replant the first one.”

For the last five years, someone in Mississippi has successfully started planting soybeans between March 7-12, Blaine says.

“I like to see dryland acreage in the ground before April 25. That’s a large window, but it’s also potentially our wettest time frame. Our growers have the potential to plant very, very fast, but we can’t plant the entire Mid-South crop in a week under ‘optimum conditions.’

“Some of the acres may be subjected to not-so-good conditions, some to wonderful conditions and some planted a tad later than we would have wanted,” Blaine says. “The best approach is to get started, and if you have to err, err on the early side.”

The Mississippi soybean specialist also recommends using a full, broad spectrum seed treatment program to protect the seed on the front end because it may take some of the early plantings a month to come to a full stand.

“Take a pythium-based material and build around that,” he says. “With the cost of seed today, we’ve got to do it right the first time. Over the long haul, fungicides will not cost you money. They will make you money.”

Early Planting Myth-Buster

Some soybean farmers in the South have been hesitant to try early planting because they believe that spring frosts will kill the beans.

“This is not true,” says Mississippi soybean specialist Alan Blaine. “Frosts are not a concern, but a late freeze is a different story.

“The germination process is not going to proceed as long as it is below optimum temperatures,” he explains.

“Those seed are just going to lie there, and lying in the ground is just as good as sitting in a bag in the shop.

“They are under the soil and they are protected,” he adds. “Ironically, in the last few years, the late March plantings have been our most successful.”

Blaine points out that in November several frosts had already occurred.

“If you will go out and look at the crops, you’ll see that soybeans are the last thing to die off in the fall from frost,” he says. “The spring frost threat to early-planted beans is one myth we need to get out of the way.

“A late freeze may occur, but not all of the crop will be at the same stage,” Blaine adds.