Production Blog

Double Up On Beans

Double-crop soybeans are a consistent winner for Dean Campbell, Coulterville, Illinois. With management, doubling up the crop can yield a good payoff.

DECATUR, Illinois (DTN) -- The past strategy for double-crop soybeans in most of the Midwest has typically been: plant early and pray.

However, there are some tactics beyond divine intervention that successful double-crop growers use to realize a profit in each crop. It starts by managing both crops in a systems approach rather than thinking of them independently. The Illinois Soybean Association held some meetings last winter on how to do a better job when planting soybeans behind wheat.

Kelly Robertson, an agronomist and certified crop consultant from Benton, Illinois, has been working on new management approaches. He said that in many years, in southern Illinois, a good wheat/double-crop soybean crop will create more net revenue than an above-average corn crop.

Dean Campbell, Coulterville, Illinois, would agree. Last week his soybean planter was chasing the combine as he worked to get the soybean seed set into moisture.

"Year after year, double-crop soybeans are the best enterprise we have financially," said Campbell. It doesn't hurt that this year he bumped past triple-digit yields on soft, red winter wheat. He averaged 102 bushels per acre on 471 acres of wheat this spring.Test weight averaged 61 to 62 lb./bu and vomitoxin (DON) levels were minuscule.

It will take moisture to make the subsequent soybean crop and that's the one factor most growers can't control, Robertson noted. However, getting soybeans in the ground as quickly as possible is nearly always a key to making the second crop yield.

By planting earlier maturing wheat hybrids and starting cutting wheat at 20% moisture, Campbell was able to add about five days to his planting window this year. Those extra days help increase the odds of getting a June rain and giving the soybean crop a better start.

Managing wheat residue properly -- either by baling or making sure residue is chopped and spread properly -- is also critical. Growers also want to select soybeans that have demonstrated success in double-crop situations. Robertson said growers seem to have better luck with narrow-row soybeans that are planted rather than drilled. Planters are more capable of cutting through the green wheat residue. Drills tend to tuck the seed under the straw instead of getting good seed to soil contact. "It [drilling] is more of a controlled spill and we feel pretty good about it [only] because we can't see them from the cab of the tractor," he noted.

Increased seeding rates (200,000 seeds per acre or more) and seed treatments are also popular tactics with successful double-crop. "You've only got one chance to get this right," Robertson said. "You are planting into harsh environment, so we want to make sure we do everything we can to get those beans up to get a stand."

Robertson said double-crop soybeans aren't something to think about in June -- at least if you are talking about this year's crop. However, this is a good time to plan for how you'll approach it next year.

"Everything we do to that wheat crop after it breaks dormancy -- from the weed control practices, to when and how much nitrogen is applied, to whether we have lodging and how we cut that crop and what do we do with surviving weeds -- all those things are taken into consideration," Robertson said. "It is not a wheat crop and bean crop, it is a wheat/double-crop bean crop."

The wheat combine going through the field isn't always the cue to plant if soil conditions aren't right, Robertson warned. He also recommended fertilizing for a yield goal and keeping an eye on potash levels, depending on where you're located. "A lot of times we ignore the fertility aspect of double-crop soybeans," he added.

Starting clean and staying clean of weeds is also crucial as competition for moisture and nutrients can be fierce in this late crop. "The last couple of years you could drive around and see a lot of weedy double-crop bean fields," Robertson said. "When they planted those beans, they didn't know if they'd come up, so they waited to spray. You've already limited your yield by taking that chance."

Scout those beans, he urged. "And read those labels for rotational restrictions. We don't want to do anything that is going to hurt us in the crop we're coming back to the following year."

Campbell said his double-crop beans could use a rain now. "No matter how much you plan, you have to double-crop by ear and assess the situation," he said. "Last year we fought wet conditions and poor quality wheat. So far, this year is going a lot better."

Learn more about the Illinois Double-Crop Initiative…

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