2020 was an exceptional year for many Ontario soybean growers. Although not all regions had good yields, much of the province harvested outstanding soybeans. The overall provincial average will likely be a record in 2020. In several cases growers were able to achieve over 80 bu/ac. With 65% of insured growers having reported to date, the provincial average presently sits at 53 bu/ac. The 10-year average for those reported acres is 47 bu/ac. The previous highest yield was in 2018 at 51.4 bu/ac. What also made 2020 exceptional is the high prices that materialized this fall. It’s not often that both high yields and high prices occur at the same time. For those that were able to harvest a good crop and sell at excellent prices, 2020 will be remembered as one of the most profitable soybean growing seasons to date.
Much of June and July was very dry, for those that received rain in August these dry conditions actually helped the soybean crop. Early season dry conditions drive roots deeper and minimizes diseases that prefer moist conditions, such as pythium and white mould. These deeper roots are then able to pick up more nutrients when the plant needs them the most, in August. Good root development, low disease pressure, rain in August and high solar radiation levels (sunlight) all worked together to achieve good yields in 2020. For those that missed August showers, yields were below average. An open fall meant that most soybeans were harvested early enough for timely winter wheat seeding.
Although a perfect plant stand is not as critical for soybeans as it is for corn, higher soybean yields are often associated with more uniform plant stands. There are numerous factors that influence emergence, including planting equipment, seed quality, crusting, temperature, and planting depth, among others. Research trials from 2020 highlight the importance of proper planting depth. Due to the high-water demand of soybean seed to germinate, it’s recommended to plant soybeans at least ½ inch into moisture. This often means a total seeding depth of at least 1.5 inches. Some growers prefer to plant soybeans 2 inches or deeper even if moisture is present. 2020 trials showed that the best plant stands were achieved from planting less than 2.0 inches deep, if adequate moisture is present.
Under the dry conditions experienced in July, spider mite populations proliferated quickly this year. Mites feed on individual plant cells on the underside of leaves leaving stipples. Severe stippling causes yellowing, curling and bronzing of leaves. Spider mites usually start on the edge of the field, but wind can carry them to any part of the field. From the road these pockets may look like moisture stress. Fields that are close to neighboring winter wheat stubble, hay fields and no-till fields are more at risk. This pest appears to be on the increase in Ontario, and some fields suffered significant yield losses in 2020, especially where conditions remained dry into August.
Farmers and agronomists expressed frustration in controlling several weeds during the 2020 season. August rainfall, although beneficial to the soybean crop, stimulated germination of species like pigweed and crabgrass. Late germination of these weeds made for dirtier fields, and in some cases, requiring preharvest herbicide applications. Lamb’s-quarters, bluegrass, wild carrot, ragweed, Canada fleabane, perennial sow-thistle and waterhemp were often cited as being “difficult to control” or requiring special attention. Herbicide tolerant soybean cultivars like “E3 – Enlist” and “Xtend” provide better options to deal with herbicide resistant broadleaf weeds in the post-emergent application window.
Many growers are seeing the value in using a soil applied herbicide for better season long control of weeds like lamb’s-quarters, bluegrass and waterhemp. Soil applied herbicides will remove most early emerging weed “flushes”, causing any second flushes of weeds to be of lower density and more uniformly sized. Waterhemp was detected in more fields during the past season and is now found in 13 counties across the province.
News from the OMAFRA Field Crop Team