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Reducing Soybean Production Costs in 2015

Soybean market prices are projected to be near the cost of production for the 2015-2016 marketing year. Because of this, soybean producers will need to increase efficiencies and reduce production costs in 2015. This article provides a list of recommendations from Michigan State University Extension for reducing soybean production costs without significantly affecting yields.

Rotate crops
Planting soybeans after soybeans will reduce your yield potential by 5 percent after the first year and by at least 10 percent the second year. In addition, long-term pests such as soybean cyst nematodes (SCN) and white mold are more likely to increase when soybeans are planted after soybeans.

Reduce or eliminate tillage operations
Tillage trials conducted across the United States have shown that tillage does not significantly affect soybean yield. In some cases, no-till yields were higher than tilled yields. If your fields are relatively smooth and free from harvest ruts and your planting equipment is equipped to plant through the existing residue, consider planting the field without additional tillage. This will save $10 to 15 per acre. Tillage operations may be necessary to repair harvest ruts prior to planting and may be beneficial when planting very early (last week of April).

Select high-yielding and pest-resistant varieties
Variety selection is always your most important decision when planting soybeans. By choosing varieties carefully you can increase your yield potential by five to 10 bushels per acre and reduce yield losses due to white mold, sudden death syndrome (SDS), Phytophthora root and stem rot and SCN without any additional cost.

Plant soybeans early
Numerous planting date comparisons have shown that the optimum time to plant soybeans is the first week of May. Yield losses of 0.3 to 0.6 bushels per acre have been documented for each day that planting is delayed after May 8. Again, this practice increases yields without any additional cost.

Reduce planting rates
In general, most agronomists agree that 100,000 relatively uniformly spaced plants at harvest will produce the maximum economic return under most conditions. This could justifiably be increased to 120,000 plants per acre to build in a buffer for adverse conditions and to increase peace of mind. In northern Michigan where maturity group I varieties are planted, the target harvest populations should be between 125,000 and 140,000 plants per acre. Under ideal conditions, planting rates should be 20 percent higher than your intended harvest populations. See “Soybean seeding rate recommendations” for additional information.

Apply lime based on soil test results
Soybeans will generally perform well at soil pH levels between 6.0 and 7.0. However, the optimal range is between 6.3 and 6.5 as this range maximizes nutrient availability and biological nitrogen fixation while minimizing SCN population growth. Variable rate lime applications are highly recommended. See “Managing soil pH for optimal soybean production” for additional information.

Don’t apply nitrogen fertilizer
Hundreds of university trials have shown that nitrogen fertilizer applications to soybeans are rarely profitable. The potential for a profitable response increases in very high yielding environments (greater than 68 bushels per acre).

Don’t apply foliar fertilizers
Foliar fertilizer applications to soybeans are rarely profitable. This has been demonstrated in hundreds of university trials conducted across the United States and also locally in the Michigan foliar fertilizer trials. The one exception is when foliar applications of manganese fertilizers are made to correct visible manganese deficiency symptoms.

Apply Phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) fertilizers as needed to maintain critical soil test levels
The critical level for a given nutrient is the soil test level at which 95 to 97 percent of the crop’s yield potential will be reached with no additional inputs of the nutrient. The critical level for P is 15 ppm and the maintenance range for soybeans is 15 ppm, so P soil test levels should be maintained between 15 and 30 ppm.

The critical K level is calculated by multiplying the cation exchange capacity (CEC) by 2.5 and adding 75. For example, the critical K level for a soil having a CEC of 12 meq/100g is 105 ppm [(12 x 2.5) + 75]. The maintenance range for soybeans is 30 ppm, so the K soil test level for this soil should be maintained between 105 ppm and 135 ppm. See “Phosphorus and potassium fertilizer recommendations for high-yielding, profitable soybeans” for additional information.

Apply seed treatments only when warranted
Soybean seed treatments, including fungicides, insecticides, inoculants and nematicides, have produced inconsistent yield benefits in university trials. However, they may be warranted when pest problems such as SCN or Phytophthora root rot have been verified or when planting conditions favor pest damage. Examples of such planting conditions include early planting (Pythium and SDS), planting into grass sods (white grubs and wireworms) and when manure or green plant material has been incorporated within two weeks of planting (seedcorn maggots).

Consider eliminating foliar fungicide applications unless field and weather conditions are favorable for white mold
Prophylactic foliar fungicide applications have produced modest yield increases in Michigan. Stratego YLD was evaluated in nine on-farm trials in 2012 and 2013, producing an average yield increase of 1.4 bushels per acre. Priaxor increased yields by 2.7 bushels per acre when averaged across 10 on-farm trials conducted in 2014. These yield increases are not sufficient to cover product and application costs given the projected market prices. Foliar fungicides applied to control or suppress white mold have produced mixed results in university trials with the disease incidence being reduced by 0 to 60 percent.

Select and apply herbicides to maximize weed control and minimize crop damage
The MSU Weed Science Program evaluates commercially available weed control programs each year. The most profitable weed control programs year in and year out provide the highest level of weed control and minimize crop injury. The cost of the weed control programs is also considered, but this does not affect overall profitability as much as the level of weed control and crop injury.

Reducing production costs and improving efficiency will help soybean producers respond to the projected market prices.

Source: Mike Staton, Michigan State University Extension 

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