Planting date and variety selection are critical factors in success with soybeans in the Texas Blacklands. Benny Denson, a Robinson farmer, says April is too late to plant soybeans on his Blacklands soils.

“I prefer to plant from March 10 to March 15,” Denson said during a grains and soybean seminar at the recent Blacklands Income Growth conference in Waco.

“I get a better yield with earlier planting,” Denson said. “I was delayed until April in some fields last year and made only 19 bushels per acre. We simply ran out of rain.”

Early planting also means early harvest, the last week in July or the first of August. “In a normal year, whatever that is, I'll make 35 to 40 bushels an acre. In a good year, I can get 40 to 45 bushels.”

Denson likes a maturity group of 4.6 to 4.8. “I get consistent yields with that range,” he said. “With a 4.9 I'll either make 50 bushels per acre or 15. There's not much middle ground.”

Soybeans, even with currently low prices, make sense for Denson.

“It's a good rotation crop. I get a 10 bushel per acre increase in corn yields following soybeans.”

Greg Gerik said he has been growing soybeans since 1989 but is “still learning and still making a lot of mistakes. I figure I don't know anything any more,” he said.

In addition to soybeans, he grows corn and grain sorghum.

Gerik has been testing planting patterns. “In 2000 I planted some soybeans with a 30-inch row planter and broadcast some more right beside the row beans. In one field I made only 12 bushels per acre with 30-inch rows but only one bushel more with broadcast soybeans.

“In another spot, I made 25 bushels in rows and three bushels better with broadcast. I'll stay with broadcast.”

He plants a little later than Denson and prefers a 3.9 to a mid 4 maturity group. “But because the label says 4.6 means diddly squat, says. “Fields three miles apart will perform differently with the same variety. But an early, fast-growing variety is the only way to get yields up. We need a vigorous, tall, 3.9 maturity group soybean.”

Denson said Roundup Ready technology offers some promise but may not always be the most economical option.

“I'm not sure Roundup Ready technology is cheaper. Seed costs $7.50 per bag more than conventional varieties. That's a $10 per acre added expense. With Roundup for weed control we add another $20 per acre, $30 if we have to hit it twice. We can use another variety and another weed program and come out better in some cases.”

Gerik said rotating soybeans in front of corn or grain sorghum helps with weed control. “We have a lot of herbicides available for soybeans and we can clean up the fields.”

Denson said getting a soybean tall enough “has been a problem. We need varieties better adapted to our location.”

“We plant only 400,000 acres of soybeans in Texas,” said Travis Miller, Texas A&M Extension program director for Crop and Soil Sciences, “so we do not have an adequate breeding program to support that little acreage.”

Gerik said soybeans also might be harmed by cotton root rot. “My fields are so eat up with it I can't plant cotton, but I don't worry about it with soybeans. I finish early enough to avoid damage.”

Denson said soybeans do better on heavy land than on sandy soils. “And I inoculate every year. It's cheap insurance.”

rsmith@primediabusiness.com