Scatter 20 bu. of soybeans across an acre on your farm and you've got an un-pretty picture of the potential yield you lose on every soybean acre you farm. In today's market, you could toss 180 dollar bills out there and see the loss in cold, hard cash.

As an industry, soybean farmers seem stuck in the low 50s for yield when the genetic potential is reasonably there for 70-bu. beans, or more. The question is: Why? Some of the answers are in the field, other answers may reside in growers' attitude toward soybeans as being little more than a rotational crop that helps corn grow better.

To find some of the answers in the field, Asgrow Seed Co. and Kruger Seed Co. will partner with FIRST, the independent, on-farm research company, and Corn & Soybean Digest this spring to test two of the variables that may restrict soybean yield.

Planting date and maturity group will be compared at FIRST research sites in southern, central and northern Illinois using Asgrow and Kruger soybean seed. “We don't understand enough about soybean genetics and how they respond to environmental conditions,” says FIRST's Kevin Coey.

To test the effect of planting date, one plot will be planted 15 days prior to the date considered normal for the region, one plot at normal planting time and a third plot 15 days after the normal planting date. Different maturity groups will be tested for both early and full-season plantings at each site, ranging from 4.2 in the southern plots at Owaneco to 2.3 at the northern site near Lanark, IL.

“Different maturity groups mean you have different environments during the reproductive stage,” says Coey. “It's a complex biological system with a lot of factors at work.We hope the study will help us understand how we can have a more reliable yield response dependent on management.”

Monsanto's Area Technology Development Manager Matt Foes, Rockford, IL, looks for the full-season beans to be yield winners. “Too often, farmers select varieties for early harvest so they can get to corn,” Foes says. “Full-season varieties are likely to catch a late August or early September rain that can increase yield significantly.”

Improved genetics and management give early planted soybeans a better chance for success than they had in the early 1990s, according to Foes. “Early planted beans were gaining popularity then, but Sudden Death Syndrome (SDS) problems pushed back the planting window. We've got a better handle on SDS now because it became a higher-priority selection criteria.”

THE GENETICS ARE THERE to produce 70-bu. soybeans, says Blair Fuessley, soybean research director for Kruger Seed Co., Dike, IA. “The questions are: How do we control disease and can we do it economically?” he asks.

“I think we'll see the most yield potential in the early planted plots,” Fuessley says. “But, we'll also see the most yield variability, depending on the weather.

“With improved genetics and improved technology, such as seed treatments, we've been able to take care of a lot of the big problems that restrict soybean yield,” he says. “We need to continue to build our disease package and take care of the little problems, but 70-bu. beans are definitely doable.”