Each year, researchers from The Ohio State University (OSU) collaborate with seed companies to conduct soybean performance plot trials. Their goal is to give farmers comparative data to help make seed selections for the next growing season.
Dr. Laura Lindsey, an assistant professor in the Department of Horticulture and Crop Science at OSU, is part of that team. She enjoys finding answers and providing helpful information to farmers, though she admits there’s no instant gratification in science, and this year was no exception.
While yields increased on average across sites, 2018 was a year to expect the unexpected. Here are a few key insights from those trials.
“I feel like everything we typically see turned out to be the opposite,” said Dr. Lindsey. “The research plots that typically have high yields were low and vice versa. In Henry County, yields are generally average, and this year the trial had the most uniformly, high yields we’ve ever seen.”
She attributes the overall yield increases to timely planting, good weather and regular rain. However, this year early-maturing soybeans yielded better than later varieties. The unusually hot temperatures could be a factor in this odd role reversal.
“The heat seemed to speed things along faster than usual,” explained Dr. Lindsey. The early and excessive heat may have also contributed to a rise in diseases and insects, like frogeye leaf spot, stink bugs and pod splitting, something most Ohio growers have never experienced.
Frogeye leaf spot was more prevalent across Ohio and set in early. This disease infects leaves, stems and soybean pods, and can cause yield losses of up to 30 percent in extreme cases. Stink bugs reduced overall soybean quality by leaving shriveled seeds in fields. Farmers who applied insecticides with their fungicides during the R3 stage missed the opportunity to combat stink bugs. Dr. Lindsey is investigating spraying at the R5 growth stage for better protection. She also points to crop rotation and planting different varieties as practices to help keep diseases and pests from returning.
The most confounding issue was split soybean pods.
“We received a lot of phone calls and pictures of soybean pods that had split. That’s not something I’ve ever seen in Ohio and was likely due to hot, wet weather,” said Dr. Lindsey. “Sometimes we see pods shatter in the fall before harvest, but splitting of green pods tends to happen further south.”
In addition to the performance trials, Dr. Lindsey worked with a student researcher on a soybean checkoff-funded project to see if planting cover crops between continuous soybean crops increased yields. General results showed they did not contribute to gain, except for one field where they were terminated early. However, since many Ohio farmers plant continuous soybeans, cover crops may be a good option help reduce opportunities for diseases to reoccur.