Planting soybeans early is a “SMART” decision for Mississippi and other southern growers.

By planting earlier, growers take advantage of early rainfall, reduce pressure from worms and diseases, and increase yields by a wide margin.

More and more southern growers are planting soybeans as early as March. Many in Mississippi have been guided by research from the Soybean Management by Application of Research and Technology (SMART) program funded by the Mississippi Soybean Promotion Board.

Terry Dulaney, who grows soybeans, rice and wheat in Clarksdale, MS, and is a United Soybean Board director, is a big promoter of early planted soybeans along with his brother Edwin. “We promote the early planting of soybeans. By planting early, growers are able to increase their yields and even decrease some of their irrigation needs,” says Dulaney, who produces virtually all of his crops for marketing through his family's company, Dulaney Seed Co.

Alan Blaine, soybean agronomy specialist for Mississippi State University (MSU), says Group IV soybeans are ideal for a southern early planting program.

“By growing maturity group IV varieties and planting early, soybean farmers can take advantage of early season rains,” he says. “In the last decade, we've seen a dramatic increase in yields in Mississippi. The change many farmers in our state have made to earlier planting dates is one reason soybean farmers have been able to increase their yields.”

The extra rains have bumped up bushels. In MSU research, Group IV beans planted on April 23 yielded more than 31 bu./acre. That compared to a trite 11 bu./acre for beans planted 10 days later. In another year, 2000, beans planted April 20 yielded more than 34 bu./acre, about 19 bu. more than soybeans planted only seven days later.

About 60% of Mississippi soybean acreage has shifted away from later planting dates. “Some farmers are now planting as early as March,” says Blaine. “Planting soybeans earlier acts as an avoidance mechanism for late-season diseases and insect problems. However, it doesn't eliminate these problems entirely.

“Planting earlier has significantly reduced the pressure farmers have experienced in the past from worms and late-season diseases,” he says. “We're seeing more problems with stinkbugs, but overall, our research suggests that planting earlier and growing Group IV varieties still produce higher yields for Mississippi farmers.”

Blaine suggests planting dryland soybeans first, when soil temperatures approach 50ÞF, usually in late March to mid-April, then plant irrigated soybeans by early May, but preferably by mid-April.

Dulaney says growers are seeing higher yields statewide. “Our experience has been very positive with planting early,” he says. “We have probably raised the soybean yield in Mississippi by 7-8 bu./acre.”

It has also changed the production period for other crops. “Before, we'd plant high-volume crops like rice and cotton early, before planting beans,” says Dulaney. “Now farmers are utilizing their equipment better by going out and planting early beans then coming back with cotton and rice through the first of May.”

Group IVs and Vs work well in the system, which has been enhanced with better Roundup Ready varieties. “Roundup Ready beans really helped get this program going,” says Dulaney.

Blaine says that in an early planting program, and even those planted before mid-May, southern growers should make sure seeds are treated for protection against Pythium to reduce the risk of seedling disease and help insure a viable stand.

“When planting before May 1, consider planting shallow,” says Blaine. “Plant for a rain, since rains this time of year are usually intense and can greatly damage soybean stands. Even if rainfall is delayed, on early plantings, temperatures this time of the year will allow seed to lie in the soil much longer than later plantings.”

Field recommendations, provided by Mississippi State research and Extension personnel, along with producers, are based on previous production problems, field scouting, soil sample results and concerns of cooperating producers.