Agronomist outlines considerations for early planted soybeans

A combination of factors, including high prices and strong demand, could motivate U.S. farmers to plant a significant amount of additional soybean acres this spring.

And, if that’s the case, a number of farmers will likely consider an early start, particularly after two consecutive rainy springs caused widespread planting delays across the Midwest.

“Coming out of 2020 in agriculture, we ended on a high note. We had a great harvest, prices were on the move and they haven’t let down since,” Kris Ehler, sales agronomist at Ehler Brothers Co. in Thomasboro (Champaign County), told the RFD Radio Network.

“It creates a lot of excitement moving into 2021,” he noted. “I think there’s going to be possible opportunities, at least in east central Illinois, for some early planted soybeans.”

Ehler, a 2016 Illinois Soybean Association (ISA) Master Soybean Adviser, conducts continuous trials on early planted beans the past eight years and counting.

An experiment in 2011 piqued his interest in planting dates when he had success planting some beans on March 22 that year. Since that time, the rolling average of the ongoing trials the past eight years shows an 8.5 to 9-bushel advantage planting soybeans on April 20 versus a mid-May planting date.

“I tell growers those are free bushels. There’s nothing other than an adjustment in planting dates,” he said. “Soybeans can handle much cooler temperatures than corn, which is very attractive to growers who love to be doing something when soil conditions are fit.”

Farmers considering pushing the planting date up on soybeans should consider key factors, such as their local crop insurance date and crop protection.

Those who plant before the crop insurance date, typically around mid-April, may lose protection for possible replants. Farmers who plant early soybeans also should consider a seed treatment to protect against sudden death syndrome and other threats, according to Ehler.

“There is a large amount of risk and reward for extremely early planting dates. It also gives growers a great opportunity to learn,” Ehler said. “We had an experience in 2020 were we had a May 10 freeze event.

“We had some beans planted April 8-9 that had just emerged, and we lost a significant amount of stands due to that freeze,” he continued. “I also had the best stand I’d ever had from an ultra-early planting date (March 9). I got dinged pretty hard on that trial, although it still made 45 bushels.”

Overall, Illinois farmers produced the most soybeans of any state in the nation last year (605 million bushels) with an average yield of 59 bushels per acre, up 5 bushels from the challenging 2019 season.

“Even with the challenges presented by the pandemic, the economy and the weather, Illinois soybean farmers were able to do what they do best – show the ability to make the most of what the growing season throws at them,” said David Wessel, ISA Utilization Committee chairman who farms near Chandlerville (Cass County).

Some early estimates suggest U.S. farmers could increase soybean plantings by 5 million to 7 million acres this season, weather permitting, after harvesting 82.3 million acres last year.