After a wild weather year like 2011, it’s especially valuable to see how different varieties perform over multiple growing environments before selecting seed to plant for next season, says Shaun Casteel, Purdue University Extension soybean agronomist.

“In 2011, soybean growers experienced a fairly wide variety of growing conditions,” says Casteel. “In Indiana and other parts of the Midwest, there were a lot of challenges with drought and heat, but some areas were more fortunate with their weather than others, and yields reflected that.”

For multi-year corn and soybean yield champ, Kip Cullers, Purdy, MO, the 2011 growing season ranks among the worst he’s experienced, particularly for corn. “Around here, it was as bad or worse as 1980,” he says. “Even our irrigated corn was a wreck; it just didn’t pollinate well due to the heat.”

Although yields for all his crops were disappointing in 2011, soybeans proved more resilient than corn, adds Cullers. “It seems hard to believe, but a lot of our dryland beans yielded higher than our dryland corn,” he says. “We also had some irrigated soybeans that yielded over 100 bu./acre.”

Cullers, who in 2010 posted a 160.6 bu./acre soybean yield, says he’s already made most of his decisions on what soybean varieties to plant in 2012, based largely on how well they’ve done in his on-farm field plots. “We pretty well know what varieties we’ll plant next year after we cut our plots,” he says. “We have our variety trials in short rows. The varieties that do well in those trials we put on a larger scale – 20-acre plots – the following year. The ones that perform best in those larger plots are typically what we plant on most of our fields.”

Variety selection is a bit different for double-crop soybeans than for single-crop soybeans, adds Cullers. “For the double-crop beans, we want to have a little more height,” he says. “We’re also looking for better drought and heat tolerance with the double-crop beans, because we plant them the first of July, compared to the single-crop beans that we plant earlier.”

Farmers can definitely glean good information by doing some small-scale test runs on different varieties that they may decide to plant in fields on a large scale later, says Casteel. “In addition to on-farm test plots, it’s also good to look at independent studies on a large number of different varieties under multiple growing environments,” he adds.

For example, in 2010, Purdue University Extension began compiling soybean variety trials across a five-state area (Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan and Kentucky), says Casteel. “This gives us a composite of all five states on how different soybean varieties perform over multiple growing environments,” he says. “We post this information online at the Purdue Crop Performance Program page where there is a link to soybean trials and the new, multistate soybean database.”

This new, soybean database allows farmers to search by variety, state or region, maturity groups and traits, says Casteel. Farmers who want more detail on pest-resistant soybean traits can visit a website housed at the University of Illinois, called VIPS (Varietal Information Program for Soybeans), he adds.

“When selecting seed, everyone wants high yields, but you also need to know what the challenges are to achieve high yields in your fields, such as soybean cyst nematode or phytopthora root rot,” says Casteel. “I suggest doing your homework – look at variety trial data over multiple growing conditions and select varieties with the best yield potential and yield consistency. Then, anticipate the insect and disease challenges with each field and select pest-resistant varieties from this short list. Your seed dealer can also help direct you to the most resistant traits available for these challenges.”