In 2016, soybean production in the United States was worth nearly $41 billion, according to Statista, an online market research and business intelligence portal. Furthermore, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates that next year, soybeans will take up 91 million acres of the country’s arable land—the most of any crop.
By itself, soy is not a hugely popular food in the United States. However, as an ingredient, soy is actively used in the production of many everyday food items like vegetable oil, margarine, baked goods, and animal feed. Soybean oil is also utilized in making countless non-food items such as crayons, candles, solvents, hydraulic fluid, biodiesel fuel, and more.
Because of the soybean plant’s versatility and usefulness—along with the expected growth trend for soybean crops in the U.S., it is all the more crucial for farmers and cultivators to maximize production. Here arefive best practices to consider for growing soybeans commercially.
Integrate technology into traditional farming
There is only so much that the naked eye can see when evaluating plant health and analyzing soil productivity. This where aerial spectral imaging for soybean production can help. This technology involves operating manned aircraft that are equipped with specialized camera systems designed to capture images at specific wavelengths. Spectral imaging can be used for analyzing soil fertility, identifying pests and weeds, optimizing the use of fertilizers and pesticides, and estimating crop yield, to name a few—all of which can help farmers more effectively manage production year-round.
Improve water storage and drainage
Since rainfall cannot be reliably predicted, farmers understand the importance of water management to providing ideal conditions for growing crops. Water storage and drainage work hand-in-hand, helping to achieve optimum water levels for growing soybean crops.
Practice crop rotation
Crop rotation is highly beneficial in soybean farming because soybeans can imbue the soil with nitrogen. Farmers can cycle legume crops like soybeans with grass crops like corn since soybeans are able to produce their own nitrogen and can leave much of the important nutrient in the soil for the corn to consume.Crop rotation can also help prevent pests from gaining a foothold in farms by breaking their life cycles.
Optimize soil fertility and nutrient levels
Farmers must all conduct regular tests to take the guesswork out of maintaining a healthy soybean field. They must ensurethat nutrients—particularly phosphorous and potassium—are at their optimum level, and they should alsomonitor soil health to determine whether adding nitrogen will also result in increased yields.
Compaction can be a major detriment to soil health, leading to erosion and lower crop production. When soil is compacted, it is essentially compressed to the point that a field hasless porous space available for water and air that the soybean plant needs to grow.
Fortunately, soil compaction is preventable and can be overcome by:
- using a direct seeding method to optimize the structure of the soil and increase the amount of soil organic matter;
- limiting farm activities that can lead to compacted soils, such as cultivation and machine traffic;
- ensuring the use of proper equipment, tire sizes and air pressure, all of which can directly impact crop yield; and
- implementing a conservative tillage schedule, which can help avoid unnecessary disruption to the soil’s structure.
Eliminateweeds and pests
Having an effective pest and weed management system is a given. If left unattended or untreated, weeds and insects can devastate the health of a soybean field and have an adverse effect on yield. Specific actions to overcome this challenge include identifying species of pests that are likely to damage soy crops and implementing a crop rotation system to keep these insects at bay. In addition, be proactive and devise a plan – perhaps with help from a professional – for regularly scouting and monitoring pests, since they can appear at any given time of the year.
Just like pests, weeds of many different types can also wreak havoc on a soybean field if left unmanaged. Steps to overcome weeds include the use of herbicides and lowering seed rates.
These best practices are merely a sample of the many different ways farmers can effectively manage their soybean field. It may not be economically feasible to implement all of them, but employing a proactive, wide-ranging, and sustainable management system comprised of several solutions is highly recommended to help ensure maximum yield for the long term.