In the first decade of the next century, soybean growers will increase profitability by cutting back. Cutting back, that is, on tillage, herbicide applications and even planting rates.

Growers worldwide will manage their crops and soils more precisely. In many situations that will mean spending less money on inputs.

Fertilizer may be one exception. The long-standing practice of letting soybeans scrounge for nutrients left over from the previous corn crop may fall by the wayside.

"I think we're going to put more emphasis on the bean crop than on the corn," says George Rehm, University of Minnesota soil scientist.

The move to narrower rows likely will continue, although not all agronomists and soil scientists agree. In much of the world, we're already seeing a major move from planters to drills for soybean planting.

Narrow-row beans intercept the maximum amount of sunlight, says Jim Beuerlein of Ohio State University.

"You need to have a complete crop canopy by the time flowering starts," he says. "If your wider rows don't accomplish that, you're losing yield."

Increasingly, weeds in narrow-row fields will be controlled with total-post herbicide programs, and more pesticides to combat diseases and insects will be available, says Beuerlein. To get the most benefit from these products, growers must be able to drive through their fields throughout the growing season.

"We'll need to be using skip-row or tramline systems," explains the agronomist.

The availability of varieties with stacked genes for resistance to multiple diseases, insects and soil characteristics is the biggest change ahead, says Keith Whigham, Iowa State University agronomist. Growers will be able to choose from a smorgasbord of varieties with a wide range of traits, looking for those that best fit their individual fields.

"They're going to have more opportunities to pick and choose, which means they're really going to have to know what's going on in their fields," says Whigham.