Look for defensive traits
The Mahoneys lookfirst for the defensive traits they need in maturity groups 0.8, 1.3 and 1.4. “With corn hybrids, we look at yield first and then characteristics,” John says. “But with soybeans, you can lose a lot of yield if you put too offensive a variety on tough ground.” Their top priorities are high resistance scores for soybean cyst nematode (SCN) and iron deficiency chlorosis (IDC).
SCN has posed a chronic threat since the Mahoneys first discovered it in their fields about six years ago. They count cysts on the roots every July while scouting for aphids. “Our levels are low,” Dick says, “and we’re trying to keep it that way.” That’s essential for preserving the land’s soybean productivity, John adds. “If cyst levels get high, it’s a long process to lower them just a little bit.”
About a quarter of the Mahoneys’ fields have a history of IDC. Even temporary yellowing can take a big bite out of yield, so “we have to choose a strong variety for that,” John says.
The Mahoneys’ manured ground tends to have problems with white mold. Susceptible soybean varieties “can take a 30-50% yield hit,” John says. In fields with white mold history, they select varieties with high Sclerotinia resistance, and they also look carefully at plant characteristics such as height, bushiness and leaf size. Dick also plants high-risk fields in 30-in. rows and lowers the seeding rate to about 150,000/acre.
The Mahoneys take advantage of good nearby markets for specialty soybeans. Dick grows seed beans for Indiana-based Remington Seeds. He also grows non-biotech food-grade soybeans, which he markets through Midwest Shippers Association.
Choosing seed bean varieties is probably the trickiest challenge of all, he says. “You don’t know as much as you’d like to about them because they are new. And you’re taking a chance that they will pay a premium if quality is not met and demand is not there.”
Dick and John usually wait until December to make their seed selections, so they can look at University of Minnesota variety trials and Centrol data. “I like to wait until we have as much yield data as possible,” Dick says.
“Farmers tend to book seed in volume and then think about where to put it later,” Naeve observes, partly because of early booking discounts. That’s backwards, he says. “Think about where you’re going to place seed before – not after – you book.”
“I do like to take advantage of good incentives,” says Bob Klein, University of Nebraska Extension agronomist, especially for varieties that have performed well for a few seasons. But weigh discounts against the need for complete information, he says. “If it’s a small discount – 2% or 3% – I wouldn’t jump at it. But if you can get 7% or more, that looks pretty attractive.”
Be cautious about planting new varieties that have little historical yield data, Klein adds. Try them on a few acres first. “If a new variety does well on your farm, then look at other trials to see if it held up in other locations.”
Do your homework and spend plenty of time picking the right soybean varieties for your farm, Naeve says. “I can’t overstate the importance of it. No other single management decision has as much impact on returns as variety selection.”