Of the many decisions he makes every year when growing soybeans, J.K. Bordelon says variety choice ranks at the top. This year, he's also worried with the tight soybean seed supply.
“I think in 2008 one of the biggest concerns will be getting the right varieties,” the Bordelonville, La., producer said at the recent Tri-State Soybean Forum in Dumas, Ark. “Even with bean seed booked, I don't feel that comfortable. I'm afraid we'll be planting some varieties we've never even heard of. Without excess seed, we don't need to get started (planting too) early. We've got to make the first planting count.”
Talking about his soybean growing practices, Bordelon's turns of phrase frequently had the crowd laughing. But the underlying message was completely serious.
“For (field prep and maintenance), we need to take our time. Don't just drop a set of hippers or disks in a field and then, when it turns dry, wonder why we didn't take the time to run ditches and open things up.
“And do work in the fall. With these early plantings, there's no way to get the crop in if we rely on spring preparation.”
Every acre Bordelon farms — “whether ice cream or not” — is on a row. “I plant 38s, have experimented with some twin-row and will expand it further. In my part of the country, twin-row beans are nonexistent.
“The only narrow-row work is south of us on sugarcane beds.
“Those typically make use of Group 3s and 4s planted extremely early to make sure they're off by cane-planting time in July and August.”
A few years ago, Bordelon got into a habit of running the hipper in the spring, dropping the shanks and plowing the row. This past year, “we had a terribly wet July. In some of the earlier beans planted in April, there was a severe infestation of red crown rot.”
Fields that hadn't been re-hipped for four to six years “really looked bad. Regardless of rotation, probably 30 percent of the population made half the yield it should have.
“The fields that I'd put a disk in and rowed back up had almost no incidents of red crown rot.”
Over the last few years, Bordelon grew tired of not planting based on row conditions. “We'd been chasing moisture. We'd row-condition, run the roller, wait for a rain and then plant.
“Some places, we got into a lot of trouble pulling a seed trench and had germination problems from a hard seed trench. So I've gotten away from planting more than two years in the same bed — even if it's just running the disk, following the tractor guidance system and pulling the same beds back up.”
Bordelon tries to pick varieties that work for his operation.
“I have varieties that my neighbor can't stand. He won't plant one of them — and vice-versa. And I'll try new things with proven varieties. I don't like taking some newfangled variety and playing with it in my field. I don't know what to expect from it.”
But Bordelon will “play around” with a proven variety. “I'll try it in new locations, with different populations, try with twin-row and whatnot.”
Bordelon is big on crop rotations. “At this point, I'm about 85 to 90 percent in a 1:1 rotation with cotton and soybeans with milo. That's worked tremendously for me. In the last four years, the overall average for the farm since getting into this pattern has jumped from 38 bushels to right at 50 bushels.”
As for planting considerations, “I plant different than many of my neighbors. They'll call me and ask how deep I'm planting. They carry a ruler with them.
“I don't care a ruler. I don't care if I'm planting it like cotton where I can almost see the seed in the dust or if I've got to use a sharpshooter to find it. I'm going to plant it to come up.
“I don't like it when (people say), ‘I'm going to bump it up two notches and drop more seed.’ Listen, if you're that close to not making a stand, one more seed per foot isn't going to help.”
Don't be constrained by what others expect you to do, said Bordelon. Just make your operation work.
“If you've got to condition that field twice, do it. If you've got to turn in the field to make it comes out right, turn in the field.
“Plant for the crop to come up, I don't care what it looks like and how deep. I don't look over my shoulder. I don't care what kind of weather they're saying is coming, I plant for it to come up. If you plant shallow ahead of a rain, you'll sure as hell miss it.”
Until his death six year ago, Bordelon farmed with his father. “He had an old expression that, year in and out, is pretty true: a wet year — particularly where we are in south Louisiana — is a worm year and a dry year will bring out the hoppers and beetles.
“We have to deal with stinkbugs — red-banded among them — and have had to change a lot of spraying decisions based on threshold-versus-duration-versus-scouting.”
Where stink bugs have been in the crop, “I've found they do more damage when waiting for a threshold to spray. We need to take them out early. That's why my consultant checks the beans every four days.”
Bordelon said the further down the Mississippi River you travel, the worse disease gets. “I spray on time and don't wait and try to get by with one spraying instead of two. When the crop needs it, I spray it.”
He also watches different varieties for responses to different fungicides. “I'm a stickler for a clean field and don't hesitate to throw in a pint or 1.5 pints of Roundup with a late insecticide or disease applications.”
Like other producer speakers at the forum, Bordelon encouraged good drainage in soybean fields. After a wet summer, “I've run ditches in beans that are almost read to cut. I didn't want that field muddy for tillage after the combine had been through.”