Soybeans yields vary every year, but the gap in Mississippi appears to be greater this year than last. So far I am aware of yields ranging from 90 bushels per acre on 40 acres of pastureland to the low 20s on flat, irrigated buckshot. Regardless of where your average falls, yields are above average, and I believer the per acre average will exceed last year.
We had the highest percentage of early-planted soybeans ever. Eighty-three percent of the Mississippi crop was planted by mid-May. By Sept. 2, 50 percent of the crop was harvested (78 percent prior to Hurricane Ivan). This includes a sizable portion of dryland acreage (70 to 75 percent of Mississippi's soybean crop is non-irrigated and will be cut first, with some exceptions).
Yields were most affected on heavy ground, planted flat, or when irrigation had occurred prior to heavy rains. This is usually the most consistent yielding acreage, especially when rain does not interfere with irrigation. Problem areas received 12 to 20 inches of rain in June, an amount that could not be overcome.
The larger the plant, the more capable it is of withstanding stress. Some acreage that received the heavy rains in mid-June were affected season-long. Planting beans on a row or bed, however, made all the difference in the world.
The last two years have been “bean years,” but more could have been done in some fields to improve yields.
Rowing up or using a wide bed is not in everyone's plans, but it will provide benefits in a year like this one.
High yields were due to several inputs, but the one that pushed many fields to new levels was early planting dates. Research has shown that the earlier planting the better. Pushing planting dates too early can get you in trouble, but mid-March is not a major concern.
Failure of soybeans to yield well were due to stressed plants, aborted root systems, and above average disease pressure. Most of these problems are hard to overcome, but this year most acreage would have benefited from a well-timed fungicide application.
Improving drainage, utilizing fungicides/insecticides, and scouting fields are essential to higher yields — no one input, but a season-long combination of them. Fail to pull them all together and you will not consistently harvest high yields.
I am convinced earlier planting dates allowed many farmers to reach new plateaus. Some are still skeptical and fine-tuning will be required in many operations.
Let me put this in perspective. A north Mississippi grower (non-irrigated) last week said his best beans cut 74 bushels per acre. They were planted March 23, had two frosts, and were snowed on once.
Much of Mississippi was spared the wrath of Hurricane Ivan. Areas affected most were approximately two counties west of the Alabama state line from the coast to the Tennessee border. Rain amounts varied westward (1 to 4 inches) with virtually no precipitation falling west of I-55.
Much of the area affected was dry and appears to have handled the rain, but a small amount of flash flooding occurred. The biggest concern was wind damage. Most of the crop in this area, however, was not as far along as the crop in the Delta. Being slightly later in maturity, this crop was in a better position to handle the weather. Areas south of Meridian, Miss., were at a much greater risk.
As we continue harvest, reflect on problems and successes. Every year will be different, and it is easy to say what you should have done after the fact. Attempt to minimize the extremes by (1) improving drainage (consider rowing up, wide beds, pulling tail ditches, installing larger drain pipes); (2) picking the proper varieties (yield potential, disease package); (3) planting early; and (4) scouting weekly. Accomplish these objectives and year after year you will be in a position to maximize returns.
Alan Blaine is the Mississippi Extension soybean specialist. e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org