When it's time to plant soybeans, Steve Shumaker always blows it.
This Danville, IA, grower hires his local co-op to blow on the seed with an air spreader, then he works it in with a field cultivator. And he's not blowing smoke when he says that the method is faster, easier and less expensive than using a planter or drill.
Blown-on beans yield well, too, says Shumaker. For example, one 100-acre field yielded a little over 65 bu per acre last year. A two-acre section went 70.5 bu per acre and another three acres came in at 67.12 bu.
Shumaker was considering buying a drill a few years ago when he read an article about blowing on soybeans as an emergency planting method for wet fields. While a planter or drill might cause serious compaction in wet soils, high-flotation rigs cause no problems.
He figured if it works when fields are wet, it probably would work other times, too. He checked into it and found the combined cost of seeding and incorporating the blown-on seed was less than the annual ownership, maintenance and operating costs of a drill.
Shumaker pays the co-op $5.50 per acre to seed soybeans. The local custom rate for no-till drilling is about $12.50, and he figures that's close to the cost of owning and operating a drill.
"As long as I can run the field cultivator over the field for less than $7 an acre, I'm saving money," he insists.
"I've found that I can also be more timely in getting the soybeans seeded," he says. "Incorporating with a field cultivator takes a lot less of my time than planting. With the air spreader, the co-op can seed a couple hundred acres in about three hours.
"I have two 24' field cultivators with Fuerst harrows behind them. With myself and another person working, we can cover that seed in less than a day."
Another important reason that Shumaker likes this system: The crop is just as quick, maybe even a little quicker, to develop a canopy that holds back weeds.
He applies Pursuit Plus as much as two weeks ahead of planting.
"I put it on myself and incorporate it once with a field cultivator," he reports. "That also levels the field and loosens the soil so I have a better place to put the beans, without burying all the crop residue from the previous year. Applying the preplant herbicide as early as possible helps assure me there's moisture in the soil when we plant the soybeans."
In 1997, Shumaker planted Roundup Ready soybeans. He applied Roundup within two weeks of planting.
"Using Pursuit Plus ahead of planting leaves residual control, so I don't have to rush to get the Roundup on," he says.
Working the field to incorporate the soybeans acts as another incorporation pass for the preplant herbicide, and also knocks down any weeds that might have escaped the herbicide when it was applied.
Lyle Massner, agronomy manager at the Danville branch of the New London Farmer's Cooperative, has worked with Shumaker since he began having his soybeans blown on five years ago.
"This can work very well for the grower, providing he's willing to put in the management time to see that it's done right," Massner says. "You need a fairly decent field surface, with good weed control before the seed is blown on."
Joel Prottsman, the agronomy manager at the co-op's New London location, adds that labor and management might be less crucial than when using a drill or planter.
"We can spread the beans while they're planting corn," says Prottsman. "They do need to be worked in before they begin to swell, but it's not imperative that the field cultivator follow the spreader through the field."
Prottsman and Massner are adamant about using an air spreader.
"A rotary spreader would damage the seed too much," Massner believes.
They also caution against running the field cultivator too deep.
"You need to run the tillage tool just deep enough to get them into moist soil," Shumaker says. "If the surface is really dry, a harrow or roller behind the field cultivator might be a good idea. And, just as with a drill or a planter, a good, light rain just after planting will really help get the crop up and going."
The field cultivator leaves the field smoother than a planter or drill might, Prottsman adds.
Massner figures timeliness is one of the biggest advantages to blowing on soybeans.
"Steve is often done planting beans by the time he'd normally be getting started if he were putting them in with a planter."
And getting soybeans in early generally means better yields.
"If I can save money and produce higher yields too, it's a win-win situation," says Shumaker.