November 27, 2020

Getting to the Root of the Matter: Avoid the #1 Mistake in Soybean Production

Were your soybean yields better in 2018 than 2017? If you weren’t pleased with this year’s results, it’s time to get to the root of the matter.

“This year was all about the roots,” said Dan Bjorklund, seed team leader for MaxYield Cooperative.

Maybe it seemed like a good idea last spring to skip seed treatments on soybean seed or just use the bare minimum. But then the rain came—lots of it—in many parts of Iowa, especially regions of northern Iowa.

There was so much rain (and snow) across MaxYield’s trade territory this spring that a lot of soybeans didn’t get planted until late May, early June or later. As soon as the seeds started to germinate, the roots were under attack from diseases, including rhizoctonia root rot.

“Our area had nearly perfect conditions for rhizoctonia root rot this spring,” Bjorklund said. “It was driven by the extraordinarily warm May, as well as the wet conditions.”

When diseases like this take hold, the consequences can be severe. As the infection strips lateral roots from the plant, this slashes the soybeans’ ability to absorb vital nutrients and water.

Conditions never got easier for beans in MaxYield’s territory in 2018. The assault on the young roots continued into summer, since the crop spent most of June with wet feet. Some parts of MaxYield’s trade territory received 12 inches of rain in June alone, Bjorklund noted.

Saturated soils led to season-long challenges for the crop, especially if soybeans were planted with no seed treatment or had inadequate protection during the growing season.

“Think of the soybean plant as a factory,” Bjorklund said. “Roots are the underground ‘assembly line’ for the factory. If the roots shut down for any reason, this slows down the assembly line, which hurts the crop’s yield potential.”

Keep that factory running with seed treatments

Failing to protect those all-important roots is the #1 mistake a grower can make, Bjorklund added. In fact, more research is pointing to root health as the key to increasing crop productivity in the future.

Healthy roots lead to:

  • Protection against yield-robbing insects and diseases below the soil surface
  • More efficient water and nutrient uptake
  • The development of stronger stems and foliage that better withstand field stress loads generated by fungal diseases, nematodes, insects and adverse weather conditions
  • Protection of the crop’s genetic potential

Seed treatments offer a key resource to help keep the factory operating efficiently, Bjorklund noted. “Farmers who didn’t use seed treatment this year witness decreased yields.  Those who only used a basic seed treatment found out that often wasn’t enough in the conditions growers faced in our area.”

            There are a variety of seed treatments available to protect the crop and help it get off to a good start. Options can range from fungicide only to fungicide plus insecticide to fungicide plus insecticide and specialized treatments.

“This turned out to be the year that an inoculant would also have been good to add,” Bjorklund said. “Soybean inoculant will also be essential for good nodulation in 2019.”

The payback from the right seed treatment program can be significant, depending on soil conditions and disease levels. “If you’ve had sudden death syndrome (SDS) take out 10, 15 or 20 bushels per acre, it doesn’t take long to get a return on investment (ROI), as high as 5 to 1 with a seed treatment investment, depending on the severity of the disease conditions, Bjorklund said.”

Not all seed treatments are created equal

Thanks to advances in technology, seed treatments are no longer a commodity. Not all seed treatments are created equal.

 “Seed treatments are like cars,” Bjorklund said. “While a race car and an entry-level car might be painted alike, the differences become clear when you put them to the test on the race track.”

That’s why MaxYield is looking at new seed treatments with the active ingredient sedaxane, which was developed to control fungal diseases like rhizoctonia root rot. Protecting the roots with sedaxane helps combat yield-robbing rhizoctonia and optimize crop performance.

MaxYield is also assessing Tripidity, a seed treatment that first became available in 2017.  The product contains a specific ratio of key ingredients, including auxins that promote root growth. “MaxYield has Tripidity trials on both corn and soybeans. With soybeans, Tripidity can be paired with Heads Up®.  

Giving plants a helping hand when they’re building their root systems is also the goal of Heads Up®, a seed treatment we are evaluating, that helps germinating soybean seeds inhibit diseases like white mold by stimulating the plants’ own defense mechanisms.

Bjorklund recommends layering seed treatments, as needed, to manage field stress loads. “You can select seed treatments a la carte. Maybe you just want an inoculant and fungicide. Maybe you need to add ILeVO®, a seed treatment that offers effective protection against sudden death syndrome (SDS), or options to protect against nematodes in the seed zone.”

            MaxYield’s team members are ready to help you select the right combination of seed treatments for 2019. Building a better root system when the young soybean plants are most susceptible to diseases and other yield robbers pays off throughout the growing season, Bjorklund said.

“Pythium, phytophthora rhizoctonia, fusarium and other organisms have built up in the soil this year and are just waiting for the right environmental conditions to explode. Seed treatments will be essential in 2019 to help promote healthy roots and maximize yield potential.”

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