The Art and Science of Soybean Growing

A healthy, well-managed field producing an abundant crop is an aesthetically pleasing sight. The artists who decorated the Egyptian pyramids with farming scenes clearly thought so. The famous wheat series of paintings by Vincent van Gogh is another great example.

Soy Beans

In the eye of the beholder

A springtime drive through the countryside is visually enhanced by evenly spaced rows of soybeans hugging the contours of hillsides and in autumn by row upon row of reddish golden soybeans with heavy pods ready for harvest.

To the farmers who grow the crops, those beautiful fields mean much, much more.

“When I look out over a field that is green and clean, I feel like I’ve accomplished something,” said Sammy McCollum, who farms 2600 acres in the Woodland Mills area of Northwest Tennessee.

“Especially when we have a pretty crop like we do this year.”

Added farmer Glenn Howell of Fulton, Ky., “When I see a beautiful field of soybeans, it makes me feel that we’ve done a good job. Weed control, rain, fertility and a lot of hard work make a soybean field beautiful.”

Howell planted 960 acres of mostly no-till soybeans in 2014.

“I’ve been doing no-till, which some call farming ugly, for years,” the conservation-minded Howell said. “I’m not 100 percent no-till because we have to work the ground sometimes after a hard winter or a lot of rain, but I no-till all I can.”

“I love planting,” Howell continued. “I can start planting at five, six o’clock in the morning and plant till eleven, twelve, one o’clock at night. And, do it a week at a time. I just love it.”

Howell, who began his agricultural career on his family’s farm in 1972, noted that herbicide-resistant weeds have become a major obstacle on the road to growing a beautiful crop of soybeans.

“Soybeans used to be pretty easy to grow,” Howell said. “The genetic traits that protect them from herbicide damage made weed control pretty easy. But, now we’re getting resistant weeds and there’s a lot more to it.”

“Herbicide-resistant Palmer amaranth (aka Palmer pigweed) really gives us a lot of trouble,” Howell continued. “It’s a very, very bad, hard-to-control weed. We also have herbicide-resistant waterhemp.”

“We have to spray more now and have different chemicals,” Howell detailed. “Glyphosate-resistant weeds are the reason I went to soybeans with the LibertyLink trait four years ago.”
“LibertyLink allows me to spray Liberty®, a contact herbicide from Crop Science, over the top of emerged soybeans and not kill any soybeans,” Howell said.

In 2014, Howell planted HBK seeds, now known as Crop Science’s new Credenz™ soybeans, the company’s first global brand of soybeans that include its LibertyLink® trait.

“The Credenz beans grew well and looked really good with a lot of pods on them,” Howell said. “We were hoping for 50 bu/A beans, which would make it a very successful year.”

“I would recommend Credenz beans as a very good bean,” Howell said.  “If you have a lot of Palmer amaranth, Credenz with the LibertyLink trait and Liberty herbicide is a great combination.”

Another perspective

Sammy McCollum and his family have produced beautiful crops and witnessed a number of technological innovations since his grandfather bought their first piece of land in 1920.

Like Howell, McCollum said glyphosate-resistant Palmer amaranth and highly prolific glyphosate-resistant marestail are his greatest yield-robbing eyesores.

“We first saw resistant marestail about five years ago and the resistant pigweed three years ago,” McCollum said.

“I noticed that glyphosate wasn’t controlling the marestail anymore, then read about resistant weeds and realized that I had them.”

His search for a solution to the glyphosate-resistance problem led him to try a number of different pre-emergent herbicides with different modes of action. “The residual of the pre-emergent herbicides does not last long enough to control the weeds until the soybean canopy closes, which is about the last week of July here,” McCollum detailed.

He then planted soybeans with the LibertyLink trait from Crop Science.

“LibertyLink protects soybeans from over-the-top applications of Liberty non-selective herbicide.”

In 2014, following their global introduction by Crop Science, McCollum planted 560 acres of Credenz beans with LibertyLink after harvesting wheat that was planted in fall 2013.

“I like Credenz beans because of the ease of using Liberty to take care of the herbicide-resistant pigweed,” McCollum said. “If Liberty is applied correctly with the right adjuvant on a hot, sunny day, you can see results the following day.”

“My Credenz beans have performed just as well or better than glyphosate-tolerant soybeans,” McCollum said. “I would expect them to yield between 50 bu/A and 60 bu/A. I would recommend Credenz soybeans to any producer.”

McCollum concluded, “A good-looking field comes from the combination of good weather, more good weather and good technology.”

Is farming an art? Is it a science? Is it both?

The American Heritage Dictionary defines agriculture as: “The science, art, and business of cultivating soil, producing crops, and raising livestock; farming.”

The art vs. science conversation about agriculture in the United States dates back to at least 1846 when “Agriculture as an art, and as a science,” by Prof. Jared B. Kirtland, M.D., was published in Western Reserve Magazine of Agriculture and Horticulture.

The science of agricultural engineering began in 1786 when Andrew Meilke invented the threshing machine. The introduction of Eli Whitney’s cotton gin in1794 meant agricultural mechanization was here to stay.

Later, in the 19th century, Gregor Mendel’s discovery of the laws of inheritance in pea plants brought science to the art of crop improvement.

Speaking directly to the art vs. science question, modern-day farmer Glenn Howell of Fulton, Ky., said, “The art comes from the knowledge we have about growing soybeans. The science stems from the technology in seed and crop protection chemicals. Seed and chemicals have come a long way for the better in the last few years.”

Technology's role in the "art" of growing soybeans.

Most of the factors that decrease plant health and rob yields also mar the beauty of soybean fields.

Diseases discolor and wilt foliage, reducing the plant’s ability to photosynthesize the carbohydrates needed to fill pods. Insects and nematodes can strip and destroy leaves, stalks and roots. Along with being unsightly, hard-to control weeds, especially herbicide-resistant species, steal moisture, nutrients and sunlight before they can reach the soybean plants.

Fortunately, technological advances in seed genetics and crop protection have increased farmers’ ability to produce weed-free, dark green, disease- and insect-free foliage and plants that can achieve their full yield potential.

Bayer Stratego® YLD fungicide features the latest in triazole technology for corn and soybeans. Offering two modes of action, it provides both preventive and curative activities and systemic movement to provide broad-spectrum, long-lasting disease control and higher yield potential. Stratego YLD can be applied to soybean, or to corn early season and/or at tassel.

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Plan your comprehensive weed management with the best performing traits by using this chart to help you choose your soybean seed needs.
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