Picking the Right Soybean Seed

Soybean field with blue sky

When your harvest wraps up, you’re immediately evaluating the soybean varieties you planted and beginning to think about what seed to plant in the upcoming year.

“Soybean variety selection is the earliest management decision growers make and one of the most important,” says Nathan Mueller, University of Nebraska-Lincoln extension educator for cropping systems and ag technology.

Mueller’s evaluations of yield trials in South Dakota have shown a 15 bu./acre difference among soybean varieties. “Seed selection is the only management factor that can give up to a 15 bushel yield advantage,” Mueller says. “If your yield difference potential is just half that, it equates to a revenue gain of about $75 per acre. When you consider prices among varieties in a company lineup likely only vary by about $9 per unit. So it’s definitely worth spending some time on seed selection.”

To further improve the ROI of a soybean crop, Mueller strongly advises making variety decisions in the fall to take advantage of early-order seed discounts, but it’s never too early to start your research.

Where to Start Looking

Bayer’s Variety Selector Tool allows you to select and compare up to four varieties based on crop, location (down to the state and county) and maturity (full or early relative maturity). This is a great tool to see how different varies stack up against each other when it comes to maturity, plant height and color.

“Growers can base preliminary selections on seed company and unbiased, third-party, multi-year trials,” Mueller says. “The companies have data showing the average performance differences among their products, even some new varieties, during previous seasons. Look at as many yield trial results as possible because not all fields have the same yield-limiting factors.”

\When selecting soybean varieties, Mueller says to consider:

  • Yield consistency: Look at yields from several years and locations near your farm. Not all companies participate in third-party trials, nor are all varieties tested.
  • Fit with your cultural practices: Seek out information from plots grown the way you grow soybeans in soils comparable to those you farm. Look for yield trials as near to you as possible where the grower used similar tillage practices, plant populations, row spacing and fertility.
  • Disease resistance packages that match your needs in each field. Sudden death syndrome (SDS), soybean cyst nematode (SCN), phytophthora root rot or other agronomic issues are best managed through variety selection and seed treatments. Growers no longer need to be concerned about the yield drag once associated with SCN-resistant varieties.
  • Trait stacks matched to the agronomic challenges in each field: Look for traits that address your toughest pests, including herbicide-resistant weed species, diseases and nematodes that typically threaten your yields.
  • A range of maturities: Short periods of heat/drought for one to two weeks during August may impact fuller season varieties more or less than shorter season varieties, depending on when or if it occurs.

“Choose a manageable number of varieties that appear to best fit your production style and farm ground,” Mueller says. Then, once the previous year's yield data is available, evaluate the varieties you ordered to determine if you want to make substitutions.

“Dealers will make this switch if supply exists, but please discuss this with them ahead of time,” Mueller says. Ask dealers if the varieties that interest you are in tighter supply than others, and place an order if they seem like good candidates for your farm.

Making the Decision for Seed Selection

“The variety to plant is the only thing over which farmers have 100 percent control,” says Monty Malone, Soybean Agronomy Lead for Bayer. “Farmers have no control over growing conditions, disease pressures, insect and weed pests and many other factors. When it comes to seed, however, variety selection can be done every year with a clean slate.”

Before meeting with a seed supplier, prepare to talk about:

  • Yield goals for each field or section of a field
  • Rotation plans, including field history and future intentions
  • Previous weed and pest management programs, including relative success of various options
  • Persistent disease and SCN problems, including experience with seed treatments
  • Soil types
  • Drainage
  • Cultural practices like tillage, row spacing and seeding rates

Dealers want to help farmers maximize their return on investment. The more information a grower can give a seed dealer, the better the dealer’s advice will be. Yield is the number one characteristic of concern to most growers, but there are a lot of components that go into making that yield.

The presence of resistant weeds, pests and diseases will dictate the trait platforms and seed treatments needed. In addition, the field’s cultural history – including what was planted the year before and what crop protection systems were used – has bearing on the upcoming year's crop decisions.

Preferred planting and harvest times are also important factors when deciding what seed to plant. In addition to spreading the risk of the whole crop being stressed at the same time, growers can use maturity to spread their harvest workload. By doing so, you can maximize the harvesting ability of your existing machinery without having to buy or bring in another combine, or worse, risk leaving harvestable beans to waste.

What Farmers Say is Important

In a recent Agri-Pulse and Iowa Soybean Association poll that asked Iowa soybean growers to give grades to factors considered when selecting soybean varieties, 105 of 130 (81.0 percent) of respondents gave yield a number one rating (See table.) The farmers also said they rely on their seed dealers for objective information about variety performance.

Iowa soybean grower ratings of importance of  seed selection factors *
Seed Characteristic Percent of respondents who rated yield #1
Yield 81.0
Future profitability on my farm 57.6
Weed resistance 32.3
Pest resistance 30.0
Customer demand and markets 25.3
Higher protein and oil content 17.6
Delivery options 13.0
Availability of premiums 12.3

*Farmers rated factors on a 1-to-8 scale of importance, with 1 being most important.

When making objective decisions about new soybean varieties, more than four of 10 farmers (43 percent) rely on their seed dealers, compared to only 1.5 percent taking a neighbor's advice. Nearly a third of respondents seek information from a variety of sources, including local retailers, land grant university experts and others.

A Personal Perspective

Kevin Hoyer farms 550 acres in a corn/soybean rotation near West Salem, Wisconsin. Hoyer, who also is a vice president of the American Soybean Association, differs from many farmers selecting varieties because agronomic characteristics come before yield as his highest priority. Hoyer’s first concern is finding disease-resistant varieties for his no-till cropping system.

“The terrain is the most limiting factor we have here,” Hoyer explains. “Much of the farm is highly erodible and we no-till the vast majority of it.”

Soybean diseases he must confront include SDS, white mold, brown stem rot (BSR) and, in certain years, phytopthora root rot.

“Diseases have the greatest impact on our yields,” Hoyer says. “Therefore, I put a lot of importance on white mold- and BSR-resistance scores.” Hoyer also faces ALS-resistant waterhemp and insect pressure from soybean aphids.

His sources of new variety information include well-managed university test plots, side-by-side large acreage comparisons from seed companies and his own on-farm trials. Hoyer says, “I put the most weight on my own test plots and don’t put much stake in small plot results.”

Hoyer says his whole-farm soybean yield goal is to average about 80 bushels or more per acre. “We have hit 100 bushels per acre beans but average about 65 bushels per acre. We have 15 bushels per acre to go.”

“Growers are counting on the seed and crop protection companies to keep bringing forward sustainable, flexible options,” Hoyer says. “Sustainability is the bottom line. We need systems that stand up to the stresses of nature without putting any undue pressure on nature.

“As the business and environmental climates change, farmers need to be assured that the best quality genetics, traits and crop protection are available. It’s very important that American farmers continue to be the most sustainable producers in the world.”

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