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Soybean Harvest Tips

Many farmers have their first soybean crop in the ground this season. Here are five practical tips to make sure it all gets safely into the bin

Soybean area continues to expand in Western Canada as farmers become more familiar with the agronomics of the crop and realize how hardy and low management soybeans can be. Because many farmers will be heading into the field to combine soybeans for the first time this fall, here are some tips to help you maximize harvest volumes.

1. Keep it clean

Most of the soybeans growing in Western Canada are Roundup Ready. This makes keeping the crop clean very convenient. I recommend exploiting this trait to the fullest. RR Soybeans are very resistant to glyphosate. Spray the rate you need to control your target weeds and do not hesitate to spray into the early reproductive phase if weed pressure is prominent.

Your soybeans will dry down very nicely upon maturity — it would be a shame to have green weeds disrupt the ease of harvest.

2. Watch for maturity

Upon physiological maturity, leaves will begin to turn yellow and fall from the plant. This leaf drop will happen in the same order as flowering took place so you may need to inspect the canopy to see early signs. From the road, you’ll first notice a couple of small circles turning yellow, followed by more and larger areas leading to a rapid defoliation. At this point you should be 10 days to two weeks to harvest.

3. Don’t desiccate

There really is no reason I can think of to desiccate a soybean plant. They are very indeterminate and until their last breath they are increasing yield. When the first leaf dries down and falls off, approximately 80 per cent of your yield will be set and safe from a frost. The crop will still be quite green. A frost at this time will stop development of the remaining pods and trim the yield. A desiccation will perform the same effect as the frost, so you may as well let the plant continue to develop naturally.

Soybeans in general are very resistant to shattering and lodging. Inclement harvest weather has little effect on their final grade. This crop will wait for you at harvest. If you have another crop that is more susceptible to downgrading, don’t hesitate to leave your beans standing while you harvest the more vulnerable crop.

One note of caution to this: under extreme drought conditions prior to and at harvest (as was prominent in Manitoba last season) shatter loss can become evident. This could be variety specific as well.

4. Choose the right equipment

In preparation for harvest your land should be rolled to create a level, stone-free surface. A good crop of soybeans can stand from mid-calf to above the waist depending on environment. They pod all the way to the top of the plant, and they start podding low.

You will want to straight cut your soybeans. Period.

When mature the plants drop their clothes, there is nothing left but sticks and pods. They do not knit together very well and you will be cutting them low, so picking them off the ground can be very difficult.

The preferred header would have a flexible platform, be it an auger or draper style. The addition of an air assisted reel is ideal. The air assist is most necessary in conjunction with a short crop in order to keep the cutter bar clean. Shatter loss on the knife can be dramatic if the plant material is allowed to build up over the knife. Four soybeans on the ground per square foot equals one bushel per acre, and don’t forget to count the beans in any pods you may have missed altogether. Cutting a short crop on an angle to the seeding direction may provide some help.

The new R2 varieties appear to have some improved pod height in general which of course makes managing the harvest much easier. However we have not seen enough of any of these varieties grown through varying conditions to exclaim “eureka” just yet.

5. Store them safely

Soybeans are considered dry at 13 per cent moisture. They are still quite chewy at this moisture level and not nearly as abrasive as peas. The 20 per cent oil content makes the difference. They will readily air dry, so starting at higher moisture levels is fine if you have the facilities. Once dry they are quite stable in storage.

Be careful if you are bringing green material into the hopper (green pods, pieces of green canola or other weeds, etc.) This can cause hot spots in your bin.

If you need to, you can thrash soybeans quite aggressively for commercial production. Splits and cracks within reason, are not discounted or considered dockage.

I hope this article will help some new growers over some of the potential pitfalls of harvesting a new crop. As you harvest your soybeans, you may see several half tons sitting on the edge of your field this fall. Most of their drivers will be thinking, “Maybe I should be doing that.” †

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