By Darren Hefty

One of my favorite things about farming is that everything is different each year.  The variety that won all the trials last year could be just a passing fancy.  One year we have too much rain, the next year not enough.  You know how it goes.

So coming off a growing season in 2012 where it was hot and dry for much of the country, where do you start building your soybean lineup for your farm in 2013?  Here are a few tips that we use in evaluating soybean varieties for our farm each year.  The key word to watch for is consistency.

  1. Yield – Big surprise here that yield is and always will be number one.  However, don’t get caught in the trap that only the top yielder in a plot is worth planting.  We look for varieties that are consistently in the top third of plots.  If you have a variety that wins a few plots and finishes at the bottom in others, watch out.
  2. Stress Tolerance – How can you talk about 2012 without discussing the impact stress had on the crop.  The stress from year to year can vary quite a bit, though.  The important thing in order to have consistent success is to have varieties that can still perform well even if everything doesn’t go their way.  2012 is a great year to see if your favorite varieties as well as the 2013 releases can hang in there when things get tough.
  3. Trait Package – This is obviously a primary decision point.  If you’re having issues with Roundup resistant weeds, this can be a hard pill to swallow as there are no Liberty Link beans stacked with a Roundup Ready trait on the market yet (and likely won’t be for another few years).  This means you may be looking at a whole different family of genetics than what you’ve been planting.  There is still time to walk fields with those new varieties and watch how they yield this fall.  Getting the right genetics is important, but don’t forget that poor weed control can easily cost you 5 bushels, 10 bushels, or potentially even more.
  4. Disease Tolerance – There have been big advances in the disease tolerance packages going into the top varieties.  Be sure to take time to look at this key factor to achieve consistently high yields.  If you need phytophthora root rot protection, for example, look at the performance of the new Rps 3A gene.  Those varieties have been a significant upgrade over any other package in the industry.  If you have IDC problems in high pH, salty, or poorly drained soils some of the breeding programs have made some big jumps forward in both recovery from IDC and tolerance of the conditions.  While disease may not have been as big a deal this year for some of you, next year could be different so don’t get caught without protection.

With all this said, pay close attention to the things that impacted your yields this year and make changes to your management as well as to the varieties you picked.  Weed control made some good varieties look bad.  Adding a 2nd or 3rd residual product and/or being more timely with herbicide applications should make a huge difference.  Tall, bushy plant types and/or narrow row spacings helped fill the rows quicker and kept weeds under control and preserved moisture.  If you have a history with white mold, those may not be options for you.  Also, make note of planting date, crop rotation, fertility, soil type and compaction when evaluating varieties on your farm and yield plots you come across as these factors all played a significant part in performance this year.