For years most farmers in the Corn Belt got their corn planted in the spring before starting soybean acres. That has changed as producers have learned that early bean planting boosted yields considerably while not affecting corn.
Jim Raben, who farms near Ridgway in Gallatin County in Illinois, has been doing just that for years. He’s a believer in the new planting method.
“Back in my day when my dad was farming, you always planted your corn first and beans came second,” he said. “But we have definitely gotten a yield boost. It’s close to 10 bushels, at least, depending on conditions.”
Bob Lawless is also on board. The Golden Harvest agronomist has conducted trials on a cooperating farm for five years and gotten similar results.
“Yields are up double digits,” he said. “We’re getting a 10-bushel (per acre) yield advantage on early planting.”
In his trials Lawless plants some soybeans in mid-April and others in mid-May. The April beans have consistently exhibited superior yields.
“I’ve pushed for early planting for 15 years. It’s getting pretty fashionable now,” Lawless said. “In my area (east central Illinois) it’s the predominant thing they’re doing. At least, most are putting beans in at the same time as corn.
“I’m a big proponent. There’s less risk today of getting beans planted early. If you plant beans first, you tend to hold off on corn until it’s a fit. We get good stands. I think it’s helping us on corn with ear counts, although we might give up on a little moisture later in the year.”
David Wessel, who farms near Chandlerville, has been putting soybeans in first for several years on his farm in west central Illinois. He estimates he gets a 5-bushel-per-acre yield boost, on average.
The change in planting dates has also benefited corn.
“Now half or three-fourths of my beans have gone in before any corn,” he said. “I’m not hurting my corn yield any. I’m planting it all in May now when I used to try to push it into April. And I’m getting good stands.”
Many farmers have been pleasantly surprised at how well corn does that goes into the ground later.
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“It’s helped with yields, and it actually helped with timing on harvest,” Raben said. “It gives our corn time to dry naturally in the field. The quality of corn has stepped up. It’s drying in the field while we harvest our beans. We got probably 4,000 to 5,000 acres of early beans out, then we come back to corn.”
Wessel points to climate patterns as a possible reason for the success with earlier-planted soybeans. He also believes improved hybrids are partly responsible for good yields with corn planted later than in the past.
“In western Illinois it seems like June is our hot, dry month anymore,” he said. “We’re picking up more rains during pollination. For several years we’ve had a pretty wet July and August. And we’re getting more heat units than we used to throughout the season. I’m harvesting corn in October that’s coming out of the field pretty dry.”
Many farmers who have benefited from early planting for several years may get a reminder this year how important getting soybeans in the ground first has been. That’s because wet conditions prevented early planting of both corn and soybeans in many areas of the Corn Belt.
“We didn’t get them in as early as usual, but we continued on the path we were headed on,” Raben said. “With technology and planters today you can put crops in the ground quickly.”
Lawless said the soybeans in his test plots may not exhibit the same yield kick they have gotten in years when earlier planting was possible. But he is pleased so far with what he has seen.
“We’re getting good results,” he said. “The beans aren’t real tall yet, but when you pull the early beans up, they’re branched out nicely, no matter the variety. They may not be as tall this year, but it’s the same for corn.”
Wessel got his later than usual this spring but anticipates good yields. He has run into minor problems in the past with early planting.
“My early this year was the last week of April,” he said. “I didn’t have any of that extreme early (planting). I have had some I put in the first part of April and have had to replant here and there because of frost.”
While early planting has been a boon for soybean yields, most farmers also give some credit to more intensive management.
“Last year we treated a 250-acre field with fungicide, micronutrients and insecticides,” Raben said. “That jumped the yield up 20 bushels.”
“There are other factors such as fungicides,” he said. “We do more management on the beans than we did 20 years ago.”