Reducing Soybean Seeding Rates: Can I reduce soybean seeding rates and still maintain yield? It’s a common question from soybean growers, especially those seeking to reduce input costs. Every year during winter meetings I share what our growers have found. We now have 11 years of On-Farm Research proven data.
The findings? Reducing soybean seeding rates from 180,000 or 150,000 seeds/acre to 120,000 seeds/acre doesn’t statistically reduce yields in 30- or 15-inch rows in silty clay loam and silt loam soils in south-central and eastern Nebraska. Results of 18 studies showed for seeding rates of 180K, 150K, and 120K seeds per acre, average yields were 69.0, 68.7, and 68.4 bu/ac, respectively (Figure 1). The early studies within this dataset all had seed germination of at least 90% listed on the seed bag. In all but two situations (seeded at 180,000 and achieving 88% germination), the growers were able to achieve 90% or greater of their planted stand.
As I share this data, I’ve often heard “but I seed higher rates because of X, Y, or Z…”; however, this dataset includes a lot of those reasons without negative yield consequences! I’ve worked closely with these studies in walking the fields; taking notes and pics; counting plants, pods, and seeds; so I’m really confident of the research and the fact that soybeans truly compensate for reduced populations! Outside of this research, I’ve also observed this in many soybean hail, crusting, and PPO inhibitor seedling damage situations. This dataset includes:
- The latest soybean varieties as the research was conducted from 2006-2017.
- Erect and bushy type varieties in growth architecture.
- Higher and lower yielding situations.
- Fourteen irrigated fields and four non-irrigated.
- Hail events occurring from cotyledon stage to R2 in some of these fields.
- Crusting in some non-irrigated fields.
- Seed treated in some fields and others without (determined by grower’s planting date).
- In some years, pod and seed count data were also collected; the data showed similar numbers of seeds/acre and ultimately yield per acre.
- Observations of increased plant branching at lower seeding rates and difficulty in telling the seeding rate treatments apart as the season progressed.
Our research data for 11 years shows no statistical yield differences in seeding rates from 120,000-180,000 seeds/acre in 15- or 30-inch rows in silty clay loam or clay loam soils. Thus, reducing seeding rates is a way to consider reducing input costs for 2018 without impacting your yield. If you dropped your seeding rate from 150,000 seeds/acre to 120,000 seeds/acre, you could save $10.08/acre, assuming a yield loss of 1 bu/ac, a seed cost of $60 per 140,000 seeds, and a savings of $25.71/ac on seed.
- Thus, if you plant between 140,000-160,000 seeds/acre, consider dropping your seeding rate to 120,000 and aiming for a final plant stand of 100,000 plants/ac based on our research findings.
- If you plant at 180,000 or more seeds/acre, consider dropping your seeding rate to 140,000 seeds/acre as a step-wise increment.
Still hesitant? Consider trying this yourself for your location! Consider using either this Two Population Treatment Design or Four Population Treatment Design. You also can download the Nebraska On-farm Research app, available in Apple and Android, to help you set up your plot design to obtain scientific results. If you have questions or need help setting up your research project, please contact me or anyone involved with our Nebraska On-Farm Research Network. To view all the graphs and additional data regarding 15″ row spacing with reduced seeding rates, please check out this week’s UNL CropWatch at http://cropwatch.unl.edu.
Beginning Soil Moisture: On Good Friday, I installed soil moisture sensors down to 4′ in non-irrigated no-till fields at Bladen and Lawrence. Last week I added three more sites at Clay Center, Superior and Byron. Thus far, the 3′ and 4′ are dry in all those locations other than Clay Center (only dry at 4′). At Superior, I could only get the soil probe in the ground 6″ into actively growing rye and 1′ in cover that winter-killed. I was just curious what kind of moisture existed currently in the southern tier of counties. I realize planting plans are in place and that we often receive rains in April/May. Hopefully it provides information that can be helpful in how to use that soil moisture. If we don’t get necessary rains, you may consider switching to a different crop, growing feed if you have cattle, or not terminating actively growing rye as originally planned but perhaps using it for feed. Will share graphs next week and I appreciate the growers allowing me to install these in their fields!