STARKVILLE, Miss. - As of today (April 14th), planting progress in Mississippi is further along than ever recorded. The most recent crop report listed Mississippi at 39 percent planted. Personally, I feel this number is closer to 50 percent, but regardless this is the highest percentage ever.

In recent weeks, concerns have surfaced regarding the earliness of this crop. Although there are a few exceptions, the early planting concept has been good to many Mississippi producers and it is a practice that will continue to grow.

My main reason for writing this article was based on a call I received earlier this week. The caller told me that he saw where I said, “Not to plant until after April 10th”. Nothing was further from the truth.

As I visited with growers over the last several weeks, I have attempted to match varieties to soil types and planting dates in order to help you make your planned delivery. I tried to voice my concerns regarding early planting, but never have I discouraged anyone from planting early. Instead, I have just attempted to help make this system work for you.

Over the last several years (with a few exceptions), the earlier planted portion of our crop has yielded the best. Last year, some of the highest yielding soybeans were planted between March 12th-19th.

There may be times that we might plant too early, but based on my experience if I have to error I want to take my chances on the early side. Over the last three years I have observed plantings between March 7th-17th, and they have done quite well. Some fields last year even encountered three different frosts. Now understand, you must use some common sense regarding early planting, and we may go too early at some point.

As far as this crop is concerned, I have only two concerns. First, I do not feel we have to get in a real hurry on irrigated acreage and secondly, I think we need to be aware that these wide row beans may not canopy. This is where the mid April date came from. It was not because yields would be lower, it was in order to help you get more growth in wider rows.

Are there concerns with early planting? Sure. There might be in some areas but not from a yield standpoint. However, wide row beans that are allowed to grow up in late season weeds due to lack of canopy closure might impact yields. Narrow row beans might produce higher yields, but yields from wide row beans planted early will consistently be above average.

My only reason for delaying some planting was to achieve more growth.

It does not require a large plant to produce high yields. Given this fact, I think you can understand why trying to match row spacing, planting date, variety and soil type become so critical.

Over the last 10 years, we have seen Mississippi’s state average yield increase by approximately 10 bushels per acre. I am not as old as some, but I have been around long enough to remember the 70s and 80s. Myself and others feel comfortable with this system maybe more than some; because, we have been working on this for several years.

For all of our benefit, let me give you a little history lesson regarding early planting. The first work was conducted in Texas approximately 20 years ago. Plantings of late Group 4s in South Texas produced above average yields when planted in late February/March. Several individuals conducted this research, but it has taken a long time for us to get to this point.

Dr. Larry Heatherly has spent the last 18 years fine tuning this system. However, we all must admit that a lot of the recent experience we have obtained was provided by growers, not research plots. We know much more today than three years ago, but we still have more to learn.

Much of the concern regarding early planting is due to lack of experience. Every system has problems but based on my experience I had rather take my chances early versus late.

Yield is not a concern, nor is soil temperatures. Frost is not as big a concern as many think and in a couple of weeks many of you will know far more than you did previously, particularly acreage north of Highway 82.

I remember a typical late summer in Mississippi; hot and little if any rainfall. Every year I heard folks say if we had just got a tropical depression to come through we would have made a good crop. Most years they do not materialize, particularly when and where you want them, and if they do it might occur at the wrong time. The early planting concept is an avoidance mechanism for late summer weather and it works.

If you told me you had two options: to plant your soybeans early or after you finished planting cotton I would tell you to go early every time. Not that this will allow you to avoid all problems, but it will allow you to capitalize on higher, more consistent yields.

Alan Blaine is Extension soybean specialist with Mississippi State University.

e-mail: flaws@primediabusiness.com