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.