The Hotrod Soybean

The Hotrod Soybean from Central Valley Ag on Vimeo.

by Mike Zwingman

by Mike Zwingman

It’s that time again: my quarterly soybean article, summer version.

I always him and haw a bit when it comes to writing about soybeans.  They’re just not the hot rod stuff that corn is.  Generally, they’re kind of fickle and weird.  And boring.  Like a Subaru.

But I’m working on changing that thinking, because it’s almost all wrong.  They’re definitely weird, but in a good way.  And they’re definitely like a Subaru, which really isn’t boring at all: I mean, you can fit a surfboard in a Subaru.  Or a kayak.  There are more good adventures to be had with a Subaru than with most other vehicles.

Here’s the key to unlocking the adventure in beans: you can create yield.  With corn, all we can talk about is minimizing loss (see my article from a few weeks ago).  But with beans, the window is small, but we actually do have the opportunity to trick the plants into creating more yield.  And bonus: the indeterminate soybean has no genetic limit for yield.  It can produce and produce as far as the sun will take it.

Incidentally, today we find ourselves in that small window of yield creation, R2-R3.  In this brief window, we can create flowers, which, given the right care, can lead to more pods, which, given the right care, can lead to more yield.

Which is all pretty darn cool, but a bit scary too.  As with most things, with power comes responsibility, so a warning: to commit to any action today is to commit to the end of the game.  If you make pods, you fill them, which means that the water and nutrients necessary to support those extra pods are there.  If you haven’t been keeping up then with fertilization to match crop removal, don’t pass go.  Now is not the time for this.

If, however, you have been keeping up and are intrigued by the opportunity to create greater yield, there are plenty of options for you to pursue.  You could apply a plant growth regulator like Ascend that will increase pod elongation; or a fungicide to reduce stress and allow the plant’s full resources to work toward the creation of pods; or a plant growth assimilator like Take Off that will help the plants uptake more N and fill their pods.

Or any combination of the above…

Remember though: the end of the game.  I called soybeans fickle at the start of this article.  Perhaps a better term is sensitive.  Or complex.  Any increase in the sink must be matched by an increase in source else our sensitive/complex beans will administer punishment.  Corn will compensate for an imbalance in the sink-source relationship (a lack of source) by canabalizing itself.  The mechanism for this action in soybeans is far less efficient and beans will simply reduce the sink given a lack of source.  In fact, they will reduce the sink even further than the math would suggest.  This is the punishment for any lack of follow through to the end.

The sensitivity of the soybean to the sink-source relationship is an article of its own.  If it’s a waltz with corn, it’s a salsa with soybeans: requiring precision and a high tempo.  The degree of difficulty is simply higher.  This is why few people tackle it.

Nonetheless, the soybeans of the last ten years have elevated the excitement and adventure possible with the crop.  They act more like corn—a bit more hotrod-y—and have also retained the best qualities of the boring bean—a big one of which is their sky’s-the-limit yield potential.  So, you know, if you dare, call your FSA and talk about your options.  The window is open to kick your bean yield up a notch.