As soybean prices have increased in recent years, Mid-South growers have been putting more and more emphasis on planting early, says Jeremy Ross.

“As we’ve continued to try and optimize soybean planting time, we not only have gone earlier and earlier with planting, we’ve also switched more to early-maturing varieties,” he said at the annual conference of the Mississippi Agricultural Consultants Association at Mississippi State University.

‘In the past, we planted mainly Group V and Group VI varieties; now, we’re planting late Group III and early Group IV varieties.”

Ross, who is University of Arkansas Extension agronomist/soybeans at Little Rock, says the earlier planting “allows us to harvest earlier and to sometimes take advantage of basis premiums for early delivery.

“It also can help to reduce irrigation requirements, which may become more and more of an issue as concerns increase about water quantity and quality, as we have more competition for water from urbanization, and as there are more regulations on water use for crops.”

Early planting can also reduce risks from late season pests and diseases, Ross says, reducing the need for late season insecticide and fungicide applications, as well as avoiding some of the problems from hurricanes and other weather events that can occur later in the year.

“The earlier we can get the crop harvested, the better off we are.”

Planting date studies in Mississippi, Ross says, have shown the optimum range for Group III beans to be April 20 to May 10; for early Group IVs, April 10-25; late Group IVs and Group Vs, April 1-20.

“These dates can be adjusted a bit to compensate for location, north or south. But everything hinges on when weather will let you get into the field to plant.

“Two years ago, with an extremely wet spring, probably 50 percent of our crop was a month late being planted. Then, in 2010, we had an extremely dry planting window, but farmers remembered the wet 2009 and planted early.

Variety selection is important

“Probably the most important management decision you’re going to make — not just for soybeans, but for any crop — is variety selection. That will have an influence on when you plant, when you’ll harvest, what kind of herbicide program you’ll use.”

Herbicide selection “is getting more challenging every year,” Ross says. “In the past, the Roundup Ready system was pretty easy. With the advent of LibertyLink soybeans and more stacked traits and treatment options, the complexity has increased.

“When considering a variety, the main factor growers look at is yield — probably 75 percent of the selection equation  — but you also need to consider the other performance characteristics of that variety in your location and under your conditions.”

Physiological characteristics, such as height, shattering, lodging, should also be considered, particularly in some of the earlier-maturing varieties, Ross says.

“Among the questions you should ask: How did the variety perform in tests near my farm? How consistent was the performance in various locations in wet, dry, and hot years? And in choosing a variety, you should consider disease problems you may have to contend with: stem canker, aerial blight, charcoal rot, Asian soybean rust, etc.”

Flag the Technology system

In Arkansas this year, Ross says, many growers will be implementing a new “Flag the Technology” program, designed to significantly reduce herbicide application errors and foster good community relations.

“With more and more herbicide technologies coming on the scene, we wanted to come up with some way to identify the technology(ies) being used in a field.”

Colored bicycle-type flags representing a particular herbicide technology will be placed at field entrances or other conspicuous locations where they will be visible from ground or air. Multiple flags may be used, if needed, to insure adequate visibility.

The color of the flag represents the technology used in the field, Ross notes.

Red signifies conventional varieties, with no herbicide technology traits, and indicates extreme caution should be used for nearby herbicide applications. White signifies Roundup Ready technology; bright green indicates LibertyLink technology; bright yellow represents Clearfield technology.

In fields where stacked technology, such as Roundup Ready and LibertyLink are in use, colored flags representing both technologies will be displayed.

Preferred flag size is 11 inches by 17 inches, mounted on 8-foot, one-fourth inch Fiberglas poles.