Soybeans don't live up to potential

CHASKA, Minn. – Does the fact that farmers treat soybeans as a secondary crop keep the legume from reaching its full yield potential?

If only it were that simple.

The myriad of issues facing soybeans were discussed at last week’s Soybean Symposium held at the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum.

Soybeans have a genetic yield potential of 150 bushels per acre, but environmental factors are holding the crop back from reaching its full potential, University of Minnesota soybean breeder Jim Orf said at the symposium.

Farmers tend to pay less attention to soybeans, focusing on their more profitable crop, be in corn in the Midwest or cotton in the southern United States, said Orf, who is also a professor in the U of M Department of Agronomy and Plant Genetics. Maybe yields would improve if farmers planted


their soybeans before their corn.

It’s a rural myth that soybeans are more susceptible to frost, said Bruce Potter, IPM specialist at the South West Research and Outreach Center in Lamberton. If anything, soybeans are even more responsive to early planting than corn.

Orf said he’s planted soybeans as early as April 20 and never lost a field to frost early in the season. He has, however, lost a field to frost in the fall.

"I don’t think planting early is a problem with soybeans," he said.

Are soybeans held back because private seed companies have invested more heavily into corn seed production? Maybe. Are soybeans held back because they are a self pollinator compared to corn that cross pollinates? The more traits a breeder tries to put in soybeans, the less attention is paid to yield. Are soybeans yielding less because, unlike corn, soybeans have been forced to maintain protein and oil content levels? Likely.

Throw in soybean cyst nematodes, soybean aphids, herbicide resistance, sudden death syndrome and root rots and it’s enough for a corn and soybean grower to switch to corn only.

But that’s not a solution for the long-term.

"These systems can fail," said Seth Naeve, U of M soybean agronomist. "When we’re starting to think we’re on the right path, that’s when things start to fall apart."


His 80-year-old retired Iowa farmer father remarked there’s no silver bullet anymore.

Maybe there never was.

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