Take a Systems Approach to Your Soybean Crop

February 1, 2018

There’s no silver bullet when it comes to growing soybeans. It’s not about finding a variety that you can successfully plant across every acre. It requires several components working together to grow the best possible crop.

Syngenta agronomist Doug Fotheringham urges growers to take a holistic view of soybean production. It’s something referred to as G x E x M – a simple yield equation that includes genetics (G), the environment (E) in which the crop is grown, and your management (M). Fotheringham calls it the ‘systems approach’ and says it can really pay off.

G x E x M = more soybeans

“You can boost your yields up to 20% by placing the right variety in the right field and practicing good management,” he says.

It’s no surprise that ‘G’ is at the beginning of the equation. “It’s genetics first,” says Fotheringham. “Build your soybean production around the variety.”

Using proven genetics that are locally validated can have a tremendous impact on your yield and bottom line. But genetics alone won’t help you hit your soybean production goals. The variety’s genetics and the field’s environment must work together – that’s where ‘E’ comes in.

“It’s the relationship of the genetics of the seed with the environment into which the seed is planted,” explains Fotheringham, noting there can be astronomical differences in variety performance depending on the environment.

Control the controllable factors in your field

This encompasses biological factors such as soil type, fertility levels, and weed, pest and disease pressure. “In many cases, E is what we can’t change,” adds fellow Syngenta agronomist Eric Richter. “It’s things like weather, which we need to react to and deal with.”

Agronomists have talked a lot about the concept of G x E over the years, but Richter recently added ‘M’ – for management – as another fundamental component.

“In the early days of my career, ‘M’ had a lot of limitations –  there are tools we have now that we only dreamed about back then,” says Richter, pointing to advancements such as precision agriculture. “Technology is extremely exciting and gives growers the ability to really focus on the management aspects, hone their agronomic skills, and increase return on investment.”

Manage disease with a systems approach

Richter uses white mould as an example to illustrate how the G x E x M components work together to limit the yield impact of soybean disease. Starting with genetics first, select your variety wisely if you’ve got a history of white mould in your field. Growers may be tempted by the high yield index of a susceptible variety, but they need to be disciplined to acknowledge their white mould risk and choose a tolerant variety.

Richter notes that while genetics is a controllable factor, the environment is not something within a grower’s control. As a result, they need to be ready to react to challenging environmental conditions in a timely manner – such as a fungicide application in an optimal window. “Fungicides are not the magic bullet; they are part of the system to manage white mould,” he says.

From a management perspective, growers must follow cultural practices that help mitigate risk. For example, plant population has a significant influence on white mould as the disease favours a dense canopy. Again, if you have history of the disease in your fields, manage your risk by reducing your plant population.

Whether it is white mould or another devastating disease, G x E x M is a concept that both agronomists want to drive home to growers. “It really is the building block of the systems approach and a driver of successful soybean production,” says Fotheringham.

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