With the current spread between the August and the November futures prices for soybeans well above $1.00 per bushel, there is a tremendous amount of interest in early-planted production. In the numerous growers’ meetings now concluded, interest in soybean production increased as prices continued to climb. I would like to share some points in an attempt to refresh everyone when it comes to soybean production in Louisiana, especially early production.
Variety selection is critical. I continue to harp on this subject. With everyone wanting recommended varieties first, information that can be obtained on less-known varieties becomes even more important. Other questions regarding inoculants (when to use and when not to use) have been posed also. If land has never had soybeans planted on it or if it has been several years since a soybean crop was grown, use of an inoculant is recommended.
How early is too early to plant? I tend to be somewhat conservative with these responses and still say around 60 degrees F if you are not using a seed treatment. If you are, you can push the temperature recommendation down slightly. The downside to that is that seed will sit in the ground longer before germination. That is when the seed treatment will help protect against seedling diseases and eliminate a replant situation.
To achieve an August premium, a proper stand the first time is critical. Often a producer wants a date as a guide and, for an early production system, early April is generally acceptable. I usually tell growers who plant early that the end of the first week in April is a good time to think about beginning planting.
Regarding row spacing in an early system, I see more success on narrow row spacings, 20 inches or less. This narrow row spacing allows the crop to use light, nutrients, and water more efficiently. In addition, the canopy closes sooner and could potentially decrease herbicide costs. Regarding herbicides, in Louisiana most of the soybean acres use a POST only system; however some producers are beginning to use more PRE herbicides such as Valor for the extended residual. The earlier weed competition is removed from the crop, the better the yield potential.
For success in an early production system, an integrated pest management scheme is critical for weeds, diseases and insects. This will potentially reduce some of the stresses the crop will face during the growing season. For fungicides, there has not been much change. Quadris is still recommended for aerial blight, and Topsin-M is recommended for Cercospera. Proper scouting for insects is critical, especially for stink bugs, because of the damage they can cause later in the season from a quality standpoint as well as harvestability in the context of green bean syndrome. Last, a harvest desiccant decision may have to be made. Paraquat is the logical choice, but only after 60 percent natural leaf defoliation has occurred. Applying a desiccant before 60 percent natural leaf senesce can lower yield.
To achieve the August premium would be a great advantage for producers. I know some producers will be able to capitalize on that premium. However, I am still cautioning callers about the economics of planting too early. Producers must consider the amount of yield that could potentially be sacrificed to reach this early market window.
If meeting this early market window means that expected yields are significantly reduced, it could actually result in lower total revenue than more normal production. For example, if a producer has a potential yield of 30 bushels per acre and expects a premium of $1 per bushel for early harvested soybeans, his expected revenue would be increased by $30 per acre assuming no yield difference between early harvested soybeans and soybeans harvested at a more typical timeframe.
By delaying planting a couple of weeks to a more optimal time, planting a recommended variety and practicing sound agronomic principles, yield would need to increase only by four bushels with $7.50 beans to offset the premium. Any additional increase in yield above four bushels would result in more income compared to the early harvested soybeans. On the other hand, if a producer has the history with the fields and production practices of being successful at early dates, a premium on an excellent yield of 40 to 50 bushels can really add up on several acres.
David Lanclos is an Extension specialist and Kurt Guidry an Extension agricultural economist with the LSU AgCenter.