If you've only been planting a couple of soybean varieties, it may be time to branch out. There is more variety than ever in today's soybean varieties.

"Even just five years ago we didn't have the wide choice of traits we have today," says Tom Hall, Pioneer field sales agronomy manager, Des Moines, IA. "There's as much variety - both in agronomic traits and yields - in soybeans as in corn."

"There are more and better disease tolerances, more soybean cyst nematode resistance, improved specialty trait varieties and more selection to fit soil types," says Hall. "And, of course, we now have varieties resistant to non-selective herbicides such as Roundup."

If a farmer really spends time in selecting soybean varieties for yield and agronomic or specialty traits, it's almost guaranteed to pay off in higher dollar returns than planting just a couple of old standbys, say agronomists.

Purdue University agronomist Dave Mengel says growers need to fit soybean genotypes to the environment.

Fifty years ago, farmers normally chose one soybean variety and one management practice for a whole field, says Mengel. Today producers should think of farm fields not as 100-acre parcels, but as a number of smaller plots that need individual management. They need to think small-scale to make money.

Crop consultant Mark Cosgray, Idaville, IN, says his clients plant between four and 10 varieties. In some cases the varieties are chosen for yield; in others they're chosen to combat a problem.

"We have trouble with white mold, soybean cyst nematode and sudden-death syndrome in this area," says Cosgray. "We try to hand-pick varieties that are best suited for each of those problem fields."

Start your variety selection with an eye to reducing the weather risk at pod-setting and pod-filling time, says Pioneer's Hall. He recommends 80% of your acreage be in the maturity best-adapted to your area. Ten percent should be in the next- earlier maturity and 10% in the next-later maturity.

For example, if mid-Group II is your best maturity, also plant 10% each of early and late Group II varieties.

In the South, there is a recent trend to plant some varieties that previously were only grown much farther north. Group IVs, for example, are grown by innovative growers in states like Arkansas and farther south. In the Southeast, however, these varieties have stumbled somewhat because they aren't resistant to some diseases not found in the North, point out Southern agronomists.

In any case, there is a wide selection of yield and agronomic traits in all maturities today, says Hall.

Once you have determined the special trait needed for a particular field, look for varieties with the best yields within the trait class, he says.

If you have fields with no particular problems, zero in on yield.

"There are varieties with exceptional yield potential when planted on high-quality soils," Hall points out.

He says growers may want to look at specialty varieties - such as modified-oil types - grown under contract with price premiums offered.

"Breeding programs for specialty varieties have been in place now for several years and yields have improved," he reports. "Some of those varieties now yield nearly as well as many conventional varieties."