Father knows best. That’s why – when it comes to selecting soybean varieties – Dick Mahoney gets advice from his son.
Dick, 57, farms in west-central Minnesota. His son John, 34, is an agronomist for Centrol Crop Consulting. Dick has been farming for 35 years and has plenty of experience choosing seeds. But the speed of genetic advances makes variety selection increasingly complex, he says. And rising seed costs put more on the line than ever before.
“When I started farming we planted all public varieties,” Dick says, “and we’d plant the same ones” year after year. “Now, varieties come and go so much faster.” So these days, Dick calls on his son to help find the best soybean variety for each field.
Choosing the right mix of soybean genetics and defensive traits makes a bigger difference than growers credit, says Vince Davis, University of Illinois Extension soybean specialist. He suspects that soybean seed selection often gets short shrift compared to corn hybrid selection. “Growers need to focus on selecting soybean varieties on a field-by-field basis. It’s one of the most important decisions we make – and we could do a better job.”
Start by studyingofficial university variety trials. These carefully designed public trials – which are performed at many locations and usually repeated for several years – let growers compare and rank varieties from many companies. University trials are the best way to identify “the top-yielding group of varieties,” Davis says.
Independent trials are also good sources of variety performance, says Shaun Casteel, Purdue University Extension soybean specialist. “They test the same lines as the university variety trials at multiple locations.”
Private seed-company trials are valuable for choosing among the varieties offered by a particular company, says Seth Naeve, University of Minnesota Extension soybean agronomist. Drawing on data from hundreds of trials, “they know the strengths and weaknesses of each variety really well.” But he reminds growers that “private company trials don’t tell you how they stack up against their competitors.”
Pick varieties that performed well at many locations across your region, says Iowa State University Agronomist Jim Rouse. Those are the most likely to do well on your farm next year. Why?
Every variety has a genetically determined yield potential, he explains, but actual performance depends on growing environment. And remember, Rouse says, that “yield trials do not have to be performed on your farm, on your soil type or even under your crop rotation scheme to provide relevant data.”
John and Dick Mahoney comb through Centrol’s multi-year database of more than 5,500 soybean trials to choose a seed portfolio that fits their soils and cropping practices. Dick and his brother Steve grow 1,750 acres of soybeans, corn and wheat in Stevens and Douglas counties. Their soils range from medium to high productivity, they use minimum tillage and a few of their fields receive manure applications.