Low-input system delivers thick soybean stands in tough soils Tired of trying to get a good soybean stand on clod-prone, heavy clay soils? Then pay attention.

University of Arkansas scientists have developed a modified system that reduces labor and equipment costs. And that's not all.

They say it produces a virtually perfect stand of soybeans that pop out of the ground like jack-in-the-boxes.

Called the hipper-planted method, it was developed at the university's Northeast Research and Extension Center, Keiser. It has application, not only in Arkansas, but probably on all of the roughly 8 million acres of this type of soil in the south-central Mississippi River Valley, according to agronomist Terry Keisling.

The system hinges on the use of an airflow truck for planting. Provided by many agricultural service operations, these trucks are faster than planters, and the service provides the labor.

"We're looking at a system that reduces labor and equipment costs during planting," Keisling explains. "Traditional planting systems here require four people to cover 100 acres a day. This low-input system can cover 200 acres a day with two people or 300 acres a day with three people. That's important because labor is a scarce resource here."

In the three-year study, funded by the Arkansas Soybean Promotion Board, the scientists compared the system on fields prepared in three configurations for irrigation: conventional wide-row bedded fields, hipper-planted fields and flat fields with corrugated furrows. The hipper-planting system turns out to be the shining star.

Eight-row hippers are common on farms with these heavy clay soils.

Irrigation is considered a must on these soils, especially during the recent droughty cropping seasons, and most growers use irrigation of some sort. So that's not considered an extra cost for this modified, low-input system.

"Producers can rent the services of an airflow truck for a typical charge of about $3.50/acre, compared to a cost of $8-12/acre for a conventional planting system," the agronomist explains.

Field preparations in the study are adaptations of methods soybean producers are already using in this area. In the traditional system used on these soils, soybeans grow in raised beds and irrigation water runs between the rows.

For the conventional system, rows are thrown up with a disk hipper when the field is tilled in the spring to control weeds. At planting time, roughly the top 6" are knocked off the rows to give good moisture contact for seed germination.

"With this modified system, you work it up when it's in a cloddy condition, hip it, broadcast the beans, rehip it, roll it, shoot the water to it, and 3 1/2 days later you have a virtually perfect stand of beans," says Keisling. "It's pretty foolproof, which is not the case with conventional systems here."

What about yields? If the season has near-ideal weather, the yields from the new system and conventional planting may be a toss-up. But that doesn't happen often, according to Keisling.

"If you're in a dry situation, which is often the case here, and you have problems establishing a good stand with your conventional system, you're going to get a 10- to 15-bu/acre yield hike with this hipper-planted system," notes Keisling.

"But, depending on weather conditions, it could run anywhere from a 0- to 15-bu increase, with a 5- to 7-bu/acre advantage on average. At $5 beans, that's $25-35/acre more return."

The airflow truck broadcasts the seeds. The subsequent hipping and rolling operations result in about a 14-18" band of seed on top of the bed, with a bare soil furrow between these bands in which to run irrigation water.

The scientists recommend three to five seeds per square foot, which ends up being somewhere around 130,000-200,000 seeds/acre.

Plants growing from broadcast seeds canopy quickly, helping out in weed control. In an auxiliary study, the scientists settled on one full-rate broadleaf-grass herbicide mix that takes only one trip as the best alternative. It's economical and has given good weed control for them.

Several mixtures may work, depending on your weed problems. But a mixture of Reflex and Fusilade has worked well for them at a cost of $7.80/acre for materials, plus application cost.

"The bottom line is that, for these soils, this is a good low-input system that delivers excellent results," says Keisling. "Several local farmers who have watched this research have tried it in different venues, and I haven't heard one yet speak negatively about it. Those beans really pop out."