By Brian Hefty

What will you spray in your soybean fields yet this summer?  Here are 4 options that could improve your yield and profitability.

  • INSECTICIDE.  If you are looking for “consistent results”, nothing beats insecticide if you have harmful bugs show up.  Normal pyrethroids like Silencer only cost $2 for the full rate!  If you are worried about spider mites, invest an extra couple of bucks and step up to Brigade (bifenthrin) or Lorsban (chlorpyrifos).  Since insecticide is so cheap now, it doesn’t take many soybean aphids, bean leaf beetles, grasshoppers, or other yield-robbing pests to justify treatment.  The key to controlling insects is to spray when their numbers are low.  That way you prevent them from reproducing and from doing a lot of feeding on your plants.  Remember that every bite an insect takes from your crop, the greater chance that plant will catch a disease, as a bite is an open wound.
  • FUNGICIDE.  10 years ago you probably didn’t even think about using a fungicide in soybeans, but here’s what’s changed.  Fungicide prices have crashed (many farmers are using a half rate of fungicide now for $3 per acre).  Crop prices have doubled.  Yields have gone up significantly.  Reduced tillage across the country means fewer diseases are buried and more are present in crops each year.  There are far more insects than ever, so more plant damage means more entry points for disease.  All these factors have led to far more fungicide use and much better results.  Unfortunately, you won’t find consistency like you will with insecticide, mainly because for best results you must spray prior to seeing any disease issues.  Some years you will gain 5 bushels per acre.  Other years you may gain next to nothing.  All you should really care about is if, on average, spraying a fungicide pays, which we’ve found it does.  However, it is common to read an article somewhere with the headline, “Fungicide Doesn’t Pay in Soybeans!”  The problem with most of those articles is they figure $20 to $25 for the insecticide.  If I’m already out there applying herbicide, insecticide, or foliar fertilizer, my application cost is zero, and depending on which fungicide I pick, I’m only investing $3 to $5.  Are the economics a little different when your cost is $3 instead of $25?  Of course!  And that’s why fungicide in soybeans typically pays.
  • PGR (Plant Growth Regulator).  My dad used to call these products snake oil or my favorite, “foo-foo dust”.  Today, there is still snake oil available, but there are also some good, proven products that can help your crop.  Look at the products used by some of the highest-yielding soybean farmers in the country.  Plant growth hormones, enzymes, and other PGRs are becoming much more popular, because the science and the results are getting better every year.  Our best suggestion is to try some things out on a small scale and very closely monitor the results.  Let’s say you invest $4 in a product like MegaGro (PGR labeled as a patented crop safener for Roundup in Roundup crops).  You could triple your money if you gain just over one bushel of soybeans.  However, will that one bushel per acre gain show up on your yield monitor?  Not unless you look really, really closely.  We suggest weighing out your field trials and giving proper evaluation to anything new you try.
  • FOLIAR FERTILIZER.  This is where you will likely have the least amount of consistency.  Here’s why.  Between N, P, K, S, Ca, Mg, Mn, Zn, Bo, Cu, Mo, and Fe, can you tell me which of those nutrients will be the yield-limiting factor in your soybeans this year?  Will that one nutrient be the yield-limiting factor on every square foot of your soybean fields?  Have you thoroughly tested your soil and used plant tissue analysis so you have data to figure out which foliar fertilizer product might be best for you?  Yes, you can try a blended product like AC-97 or Ferti-Rain, but would you be better off spraying one individual nutrient on your crop?  These are some of the challenges with foliar fertilizer.  On our farm, we are using foliar fertilizer on every acre, but before you do that, I’d suggest you get lots of data and run some experiments so you best invest your dollars.

In summary, you should use insecticide if harmful bugs show up at realistic economic threshold levels.  Fungicide is also a no-brainer.  PGRs and foliar fertilizer products are things you should be trying so you find what works for you.  We have been experimenting for years on our farm, so now when we hit that R2 to R3 stage in soybeans, we spray fungicide, insecticide, PGR, and foliar fertilizer all in one.  It is one of the steps that has helped our average yields go from 35 to over 60 in the last 12 years.