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Practical tips for soybean seeding success

Four Manitoba producers talk about preferred planting equipment, target plant stands, seeding rates and depths, and more

As another soybean season approaches, we’ve checked in with several producers to get details about their seeding practices — from seeding rates and depths to planting populations and types of planting equipment.

The Penners, Elm Creek

Calvin Penner. photo: Supplied

Calvin Penner and his family in Elm Creek, Man., generally keep soybeans in a four-year rotation. Long ago, when he first tried soybeans, Penner planted with a disker and then used an air seeder for a number of years.

However, he and his family now have their soybean seeding done by a custom contractor with a planter. “We can use less seed with a planter, and the cost savings of that compared to doing it myself with an air seeder pays for the custom planting,” Penner explains. “The custom contractor’s planter has 20-inch rows, which works well for us.”

Penner is shooting for roughly 150,000 plants per acre this year. For quite a while he targeted 200,000 but has gradually brought that down. “In 2020, in replicated trials with the Manitoba Pulse and Soybean Growers and its On-Farm Network, we tried 100,000, but I would not recommend it as there was a yield difference,” says Penner. “This year, we will try replicated trials again with 100,000, 130,000 and 160,000 and it should be interesting.”

The Penners aim for a planting depth of half an inch into moist soil at time of planting, but it depends on how the row closes. They generally inoculate but do not use seed treatment as their own trials have shown it doesn’t really pay.

The Krahns, Rivers

Ron Krahn. photo: Supplied

Ron Krahn grows seed with his brother and other family members in Rivers, in western Manitoba, and have grown soybeans consistently since 2011. They plant soybeans with an air drill and 10-inch spacing. “It’s not as accurate as a planter, but we don’t have a planter set-up for soybeans,” Krahn explains.

“We have a lower survivability with an air drill, we lose about 20 per cent, and we are located where I’d consider it’s the edge of soybean-growing area in Canada, so we plant 210,000 seeds per acre. I don’t mind planting at that rate as I’m always concerned about filling in the rows so that you don’t have the weed competition.”

For years, the Krahns planted soybeans (usually into canola stubble) a little deeper than they do now — in 2020, they seeded at about an inch. “It worked really well,” says Krahn. “Soybeans really need more moisture than we get, so we don’t do a lot of acres, and I feel like we’re still learning. But I like what it does for the soil. We usually follow it with wheat and it does quite well. It also gives us a nice, good, fertile, black seed bed for our experiments with growing corn.”

The Princes, Waskada

Frank Prince. photo: Supplied

Frank Prince and his family in Waskada, Man., have grown soybeans for more than 10 years, and use a 15-inch planter they built themselves. That spacing works well because it fits with their 30-inch corn spacing. Also, while narrower row spacing could give them more yield, it also increases risk of sclerotinia.

Their seeding depth every year depends on soil moisture levels. “It could be one or three inches,” says Prince. “The planter is very precise and easier on the seed. It also uses a lower seed count than an air drill. We started with 200,000 or 210,000 plants per acre but now use 160,000 to 165,000 — that’s moisture-dependent too, like seeding depth. Our theory, backed up by some research, is that moisture will limit our yield in soybeans, and if you have too many plants, they’ll use it up all the faster. So, we’ve moved to the lower side of plant population.”

The Princes use inoculant-treated seed and put another in-furrow. Prince says since it’s an inexpensive liquid, “we consider it cheap insurance.”

The Sirskis, Dauphin

Ernie Sirski. photo: Supplied

In Dauphin, Man., Ernie Sirski and his family have been growing soybeans since 2011 (Sirski is also currently serving as board chair at Soy Canada). The Sirskis use a seeding depth appropriate to soil moisture levels and 10-inch spacing, and haven’t tried other spacings since it’s working well.

The family uses an air seeder and, long ago, a population rate of 210,000 to 220,000 plants per acre. However, like other growers, they have reduced that to 180,000 over time, and in the past two years, have reduced it further to 165,000 and then 135,000 (in Manitoba Pulse and Soybean Growers On-Farm Network trials) with no reduction in yield. “Economically, we think 165,000 is best as you always lose some plants to seedling diseases,” says Sirski. “That rate provides the highest net profit per acre. But weed control has to be very good, especially in a wet season.”

Related Articles

Provincial association guidelines:

Guidelines for planting date, target plant stands, seeding rates, depths and other soybean production tools and information can be found for Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta at the following website addresses:

About the author

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Treena Hein is a freelance writer specializing in science, tech and business trends in agriculture and more.

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