By: Wilks Wood, Ph.D., Field Agronomist
If you’re looking for ways to increase yield while reducing inputs, you’re not alone. Every farmer wants to get the maximum return on every seed planted.
Fortunately for you, the answer is simple: plant low population soybeans.
Planting at a lower seeding rate, such as 80,000 to 100,000 seed/acre, can still produce competitive yields.
But, before you go changing up your entire operation, you need to plant test strips to evaluate whether low pop soybeans will thrive on your farm. Test strips can help you determine how the lower seeding rate will perform in comparison with your normal seeding rate.
Read on to learn more about low population soybeans and how to plant test strips to improve the reliability of your crop management decisions.
The benefits of low pop soybeans
Soybean plants are adaptable, which is always a positive aspect in farming. For example, when plant populations are low, individual soybean plants increase their leaf areas.
Larger leaf areas allow each plant to capture more sunlight and produce more branches and, in turn, more pods. This characteristic, called plasticity, means that low soybean plant populations can offer competitive yields.
The benefits of setting up test strips
The purpose of test strips is to determine whether you can achieve an equivalent yield in comparison to your normal seeding rate.
Figure out how much you could reduce your seeding rates by evaluating your test strip results. You can also determine whether results are variety specific, maturity group specific, or field specific, and decide whether you should change your herbicide program or fertility program.
If you’re interested in trying out low pop soybeans, it’s a good idea to put out some test strips first. Test your seeds on various soil types, planting dates, varieties, or whatever else fits your farming practices.
Success starts with planning
Before you even get your planter out of the barn, start making preparations to get the best data possible from your test strips.
- If you want to set up test strips, it’s best to start planning with your agronomist in February or early March before the chaos of corn planting begins.
- It’s important to keep your equipment well-maintained and working properly before testing low population seeding to ensure optimum weed control. A soybean crop’s uniform emergence and stand help shade out weeds and keep them from germinating.
However, if your planter has problems, such as clogs or seed not flowing correctly, a lower seeding rate can make things worse. When planter issues cause fewer seeds to be planted than intended, breaks in soybean plants occur, giving weeds space to thrive.
- Consider the width of your combine versus the width of your planter. You want the entire test strip to fall within the combine width.
- Keep all factors the same except for the one aspect you want to test. If you’re testing low pop soybeans, don’t also try different fertility, herbicide products, planting dates, or varieties within the same test strip. If you have multiple factors in the same test strip, you won’t know for sure which factor impacted yield.
Also, one common mistake growers make is to put out a test strip, for example, of low population and different fertility, to compare to the rest of the field. When results come in, the farmer can’t determine if it was the low population or the different fertility that impacted yield in comparison to the rest of the field.
- Replicate the test strips in multiple fields. Another common mistake is putting out one test strip and thinking those results will carry over to other situations. Always replicate! Repeatability is the key. If low pop soybeans do well consistently on your farm in replicated cases, you can have more faith in how they’ll perform year in and year out.
Here’s how to set up your test strips
Follow these steps for setting up test strips to get accurate, reliable results:
- Determine the rate of seeding you want to test based upon your row spacing and which field you’d like to test. Keep all other factors the same within the test strip, including pesticides, varieties, and fertility.
- If the area permits, test multiple rates of lower populations.
- Consider planter width versus combine header width. For example, if your planter is 40 ft wide and your header is 30 ft wide, you’ll need to do at least three planter passes for your test strip so you can get the full test in your combine (40 ft x 3 = 120 ft, which is 4 combine passes).
- Think about your seeds’ germination and emergence so you can adjust your seeding rate to achieve your desired final stand.
- Remember, replicate the test strips and have at least one other test strip that’s identical. For instance, if you’re only looking at low pops, set at least two test strips in a field or adjacent fields (try to eliminate soil variability as much as possible).
- If you want to see how your planting date affects low pop soybeans, again, put out at least two test strips. If results are similar between your test strips for a treatment, you can have more confidence that similar results will occur in similar situations on your farm.
Setting up test strips is a simple and affordable way to evaluate various factors on your farm. You can determine whether making operational changes will pay off before you implement them across multiple fields.
Low pop soybean test strips will help you determine how the lower seeding rates affect your yield and finances. Once harvest comes, you’ll be able to gather information that’ll help you decide your optimal seeding rates going forward.
Need some support? Contact us for help or to find out more about our Agronomy Tool.