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Don’t underestimate soybeans’ power to survive

Tom J. Bechman hand holding knife inspecting soybean seedling
MAKING LEMONADE: This soybean seedling received lemons — poor weather conditions, crusted soil and, most importantly, slug damage. Yet it’s sending out new buds to try to survive.
Soybean Watch: Plants will bud and branch, keeping hopes of survival alive.

When you’re doing stand counts, you may only count soybean plants that you feel confident will survive. Yet some seedlings that look tough due to a rough start could survive. Steve Gauck says it’s just one more way in which soybeans prove they are amazing plants.

“You may write off a seedling like the one pictured here,” says Gauck, a regional agronomy manager for Beck’s. He lives and farms near Greensburg, Ind. Beck’s sponsors Soybean Watch ’22.

Related: Too many slugs, too little sun

“If you find a seedling like this, take a closer look. If you examine it closely, down around the top end of the stem, you’ll notice a tiny bud. It will give the plant the ability to send out a new stem. If it gets a break in conditions, it could very well survive.”

Tough start

Gauck discovered this plant and more like it while scouting the Soybean Watch field in 2021. The Soybean Watch project follows a typical soybean field located in central Indiana each year. Hopefully, lessons learned apply to your own fields.

Cool, wet weather after planting led to some crusting, even though this field was no-tilled into cornstalks with a split-row planter. The operator planted on an angle, but there were still instances where soybeans were planted over the old corn row. In a few cases, there may have been enough residue to interfere with normal germination and emergence. When a new row ends up over an old row, seed may not be placed as deep as in rows without excessive residue.

“The biggest problem for this seedling was likely slug damage,” Gauck explains. “We found slugs in the field, even in early June. The emerged soybean population was over 90,000, not counting seedlings like this one. So, it was far too good to consider replanting.

“However, there were seedlings like this one where it appeared slugs fed on plant tissue. In this case, there was enough tissue left for a bud to develop. Barring further damage, it appeared this seedling would likely grow into a plant.”

Tough finish?

This seedling was not flagged to follow later, so it’s not certain what happened. Gauck notes that less work has been done to see how soybeans delayed in growth yield compared to their neighbors than with corn. Several experiments and demonstrations in corn indicate that if a plant emerges later or is set back one to two growth stages compared to its neighbors, it may produce a smaller ear, or in some cases, no ear at all.

This is where the soybean’s ability to adapt and compensate may factor in. “If a soybean plant puts out additional buds and stems for some reason, it could still produce well,” Gauck says.

He concludes that enough isn’t known yet to determine how much early damage might impact potential yield of a soybean plant, even if it survives.

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