“… if the weather cooperates.” There might not be a phrase spoken more frequently by a farmer. Certainly, it’s a phrase many winter wheat farmers will utter often over the next couple of weeks as they consider double-cropping soybeans. It’s a practice worth considering — if the weather cooperates.
After the wheat crop comes off, planting soybeans has been a common practice in the South and southern Plains winter wheat region. Its popularity grew right along with grain prices over the last several years. While current prices require a sharper pencil to show a profit, University of Missouri Extension cites several double-cropping advantages:
- A crop growing on fields nearly year-round protects against soil erosion.
- Spreading fixed costs over two crops can increase gross returns per acre.
- Higher returns and relatively low input costs for soybeans provide a greater profit opportunity.
Several factors influence successful double-cropping. Timing is critical. And that usually goes back to weather. The same rains that helped produce a strong wheat crop and will help soybeans start fast might delay harvest and prevent timely soybean planting. That could shorten an already tight growing season. Here are some additional tips and considerations to make double-cropping work:
Timing. Generally, a soybean plant needs about 90 days to reach maturity. Consult local sources — your county Extension service is a good place to start — to determine first-frost dates. From there, you can decide whether there is enough time to raise a soybean crop. This also will help you select which variety to plant.
Seed varieties. Again, your Extension service or the crop science department at your land grant university can guide you to the best options for your area. With a typical harvest schedule, medium-season varieties work well. Short-season varieties don’t yield as well, and they’re shorter in stature, so they don’t canopy as quickly to aid in weed control. Full-season varieties produce higher yields but might not mature before the first killing frost or in time to allow timely wheat seeding if rotating back to winter wheat.
Other considerations. Let’s assume you complete your wheat harvest in a timely fashion. You’re set for moisture. Your calculator promises a better-than-average chance you’ll turn a profit. What else should you consider? Here are a few additional factors from the University of Missouri to keep in mind:
- Seeding rate: In double-cropped soybeans, an above-average plant population may increase yields of shorter-season varieties.
- Row width: Narrow rows help speed crop canopy. One way to accomplish that is doubling back with your Early Riser planter to split 30-inch middles.
- Weed control: If planting herbicide-tolerant varieties, you can wait until after planting to control weeds. But eliminating competition is critical to achieving top yields in double-crop soybeans.
- Pest control: Later-planted soybeans often miss the insect pressure that can plague full-season soybeans. But short-season crops need all available leaf area for good production. Insects can pose a more serious threat. Because double-crop soybeans yield less, carefully evaluate the return on investment before committing to treatment.
- Sunflowers: Soybeans aren’t the only double-crop option. Sunflowers can provide a profitable alternative to soybeans, especially in arid regions. Sunflowers do require more fertility than soybeans, but their taproot can reach deep for water.
Double-cropping can be a good option for your operation. But success depends on timely planting and good management throughout the growing season.