Soybean growing states were pummeled with challenges this past year. Late planting, too much or too little rain, followed by a phenomenally late harvest meant even soybeans grown for seed endured less-than-ideal conditions. “The 2018 soybean production season presented tough weather conditions across much of the U.S.,” Bayer said in an emailed statement to AgWeb. “The entire industry is facing less than optimum germination scores on soybean products grown in the Midwest during the 2018 season.” Before planters hit the soil, make sure you have a good understanding of what happened to soybeans last season, what that means for their seed quality and availability and what you can do to mitigate your risks.
“Much of north-central Indiana and Illinois had a pretty nice year for soybeans,” says Jim Herr, Beck’s Hybrids processing, inventory and wholesale manager. “The farther west you go, into Iowa, Minnesota and parts of Missouri there were more issues because they got rain when beans were ready to harvest. “Anytime you have beans that are ready, and you get rain, you reload moisture in the pods and seeds, then they shrink back. It’s that swell and shrink that reduces seed quality,” he adds. While Iowa, Minnesota and Missouri might have seen some of the worst of the damage, they are by no means alone. According to many of the seed companies interviewed, weather damage hit from Tennessee to Minnesota, across many of the major soybean-growing states. This has implications on the seed supply for 2019 based on maturities. “In some areas up north in the group zero and one maturities we have quality issues in the industry because it got so hot and dry in late seed fill, leading to substandard quality, below 80% germination and low vigor,” says Monty Malone, BASF soybean variety development lead. “Group two and three maturities had too much rain post maturity, even though yields were good. The Midsouth had low quality and low yields on group fours and early fives for the same reason as the Midwest. The east, like North Carolina, with late five, six and seven maturities got two hurricanes—some fields received more than 40” of rain after soybeans hit maturity.” The pile of ‘good’ seed to sell is being quickly whittled to a fraction of what you’d see in a normal year. And the biggest issue diminishing supply is the potential for lower-than-normal germination scores. “There are a lot of soybeans in the market that are probably going to be sold under 80% germination, but we don’t allow anything under 80%,” says Mike Kavanaugh, AgriGold agronomy manager. “Typically, we shoot for 90% in soybeans; the majority of our sellable inventory is 90% or better this year.” In corn you’d look for a germination score minimum of about 95%, the industry standard. In a typical year you’ll see most soybeans sold between 85% and 90% germination rates—with the chance for lower than 80% germination scores, you should be talking with agronomist about what that means for planting. “Iowa State University performed research 10 years ago that documented how soybean plants can compensate for a lower population, so the plant will likely make up for any small differences in germination,” says Scott Erickson, Syngenta soybean product manager. As required by seed laws, each company lists a minimum germination rate based on a variety’s test scores. Since seed lots being sold only have small variances from normal, say 5 to 10 percentage points, you probably don’t need to change planting populations, Erickson adds. You might be able to improve soybean early season vigor, which could help reduce the burden of lower germination scores. “This year, seed treatment is going to be paramount in most situations,” BASF’s Malone says. “This is one of those years that warrants treatment and make sure you have a broad-spectrum fungicide. It will help with vigor, in cases where reduced quality stems from diseases on the seed surface, but it won’t help with quality issues from mechanical damage.” You typically don’t see a lot of seed sold with mechanical damage because high-tech seed sorting machines kick them out before bagging. Fungal issues can potentially be nipped in the bud with treatment. “A lot of companies treat soybeans to improve the quality of germination where there is a fungal pathogen causing the problem,” Herr says. “In a year where seed had more disease issues [such as this past year] treating beans brings higher quality.” In light of the seed quality situation, some soybeans are already fighting an uphill battle and getting planting timing and placement right is crucial. “Because much of soybean quality is on the delicate side, treat it like corn and plant in the best possible seed bed with a good warming trend over the next week,” Kavanaugh says. “Rely on conditions and forecasts, not calendar dates.” Finally, reflect on recent years to set soybeans up for success. “What happened in specific fields?” says Ryan Meyer, Pioneer U.S. corn category lead. “If you have heavier disease loads you don’t want to come back in with a product susceptible to that disease.” Genetics still play a key role in keeping soybeans strong throughout the season. Because supplies in certain varieties might be tight make sure you’re having conversations with seed dealers now to place the right product on the right field—even if it wasn’t your first choice.