How to Reduce Transplant Shock on Your Farm

BY ALLEN PHILO for Acres U.S.A. magazine

Avoiding transplant shock when transplanting starters from the greenhouse to the field is a key sustainable farming method.

The time of year has once again arrived when we will be taking plants out of the greenhouse and transplanting them into the field. This can be one of the most stressful experiences plants undergo as they are taken from the warm and sheltered environment of the greenhouse and placed into a field where they are at the mercy of the elements. Plants will almost always incur some amount of damage to their roots as well as their leaves during this process. All of these various stresses are grouped under the general name of “transplant shock.” If plants undergo too much transplant shock, it can leave them open to disease, pest pressure, and lower yield potential. But what can we do to help our plants through this period of increased stress?

Transplant shock is really the sum of all the stresses plants experience during the move from flat to field. In order to look at how we can help the plant through this time, we’ll divide these stresses into three different categories: environmental changes, physical damage, and nutritional deficiencies.

avoid transplant shock
Avoiding transplant shock: An open show transplanter in use as the crew sets out cabbage in the field.

Most farmers help their plants acclimatize to these moisture and temperature changes by putting them through a period of  “hardening  off,”  especially in the spring. This is done by taking the crop out of the greenhouse and placing it in a new location where the plant is exposed to air movement and greater temperature changes, but is still sheltered from weather extremes. This can be accomplished by locating the plants in an area where they are open to moderate breezes and lower daytime temperatures, but can be covered to shelter them from strong winds or nighttime frosts. This limited exposure signals them to strengthen their main growing stalks to cope with wind and change the  chemistry of their leaves in order to withstand the lower temperatures.

To help transplants acclimatize to changes in soil temperature and biology and avoid transplant shock, there are several things we can do. The use of black plastic mulch in the field will warm the soil and is especially useful when it comes to cucurbits and solanaceous crops as it assists with weed control. Putting molasses into the transplant water can help too, as this will stimulate soil biology which in turn will raise the soil temperature.

The second and third categories of transplant stress, physical damage and nutrient deficiencies, are closely linked. Physical damage is unavoidable to a certain degree when transplanting. Care should be taken to avoid breaking any leaves or causing bruising as these injuries can become vectors for disease. The roots, however, not the upper part of the plant, often sustain the most damage during transplantation. Roots uptake nutrients mainly through their delicate root hairs and their growing tips, both of which are very susceptible to damage. This can lead to the plant experiencing a nutrient deficiency shortly after transplant due to its decreased uptake ability. This nutrient deficiency occurs at the same time the plant is trying to regenerate its root system and adjust to its new environment. This type of root damage can also happen easily with bare root transplants because in the process of removing the soil from the roots, more of the fragile root hairs can be damaged than when the transplants are in plug form.

Aiding Plants To Avoid Transplant Shock

Helping the plant through the transplant stress is essential and can be accomplished a number of different ways. One way is to stimulate the plant to grow with natural growth hormones. Another is to provide the plant with a supply of easily absorbable macro- and micronutrients. Kelp is an excellent source of natural growth hormones and micronutrients. During transplantation a liquid kelp extract works best as it can easily  be added to water. It is also important to address macronutrients including phosphorus, calcium, potassium and nitrogen. All of these nutrients are involved in the formation of new tissue, and giving your plant an available supply of these nutrients will help it repair damage at a faster pace.

broccoli leaves
A broccoli plant in the greenhouse. This plant shows no signs of nutrient deficiency

It is important to make sure that your plant is not already deficient in these nutrients before they go into the field.   It is surprising how many plants have some phosphorus deficiency, noticeable by a purpling of the leaves, or a nitrogen deficiency, noticeable by yellowing or chlorotic growth, before going into the field. Plants deficient at transplant are at a further disadvantage since they are already struggling to make up for these nutrients as well as trying to repair damage. Make sure that you are using high quality potting mix for  your seedlings to avoid this problem. Even with a good potting mix plants can become stressed, and it may be necessary to top dress the flats with a compost mix or fertilizer or you can inject liquid fertilizers into the for their needs. Special attention should be paid to plants that are past their ideal transplant date. Look for the noticeable signs of deficiency, and keep your plants well supplied with nutrition.

One of the best ways to decrease transplant shock is to supply extra nutrients and biostimulants at the time of transplant.  There are several ways to accomplish this. One is to drench the plants while they are still in their flats. This can be done by mixing a large dose of nutrients into the final watering, or by mixing up a batch of “transplant soup” in a bin and submerging the flats in the solution until the soil is saturated. It is okay to have some of the “soup” get on the foliage of the plant as this will simply act as a foliar feeding. When dealing with bare-root transplants soaking the roots of the plants in a weak solution can be done instead. Another way to deliver this “soup” is to mix it into the transplant water. This works well, but depending on the transplanter, it can leave a lot  of  the solution in between the plants where it is not as effective. However it will help to stimulate soil biology, especially if molasses is used in the solution. Using the two systems of drenching flats and adding products to the transplant water works well, as it both provides the nutrition your plants need and stimulates soil life.

Transplanting is a very stressful time for the plants.  They are put into conditions very different than what they are used to and are exposed to a wide range of stresses they have not encountered previously. The plants can also suffer damage during transplantation, especially to the root system, and this can lead to a period of nutrient deficiency as the plant tries to repair itself and as its ability to find nutrients has been decreased. All of these setbacks can weaken the plant and open it to disease and pest pressures, as well as decrease overall yield potential. By using conscientious cultural practices, stimulating root growth and soil life and giving the plant easily available forms of nutrients, we can help our plants pull through transplant shock faster. This in turn can lead to an increase in our plants’ ability to fend off disease and pests and result in improved yields.

Allen Philo has worked as the field  operations manager on a large organic vegetable farm, and is  currently the specialty  crop  consultant  for Midwestern Bio-Ag. He can be reached at

This article appeared in the April 2012 issue of Acres U.S.A.

Methods for Weathering Drought

By Ed Brotak

With the arrival of spring, farmers and gardeners look forward to the start of the growing season. As temperatures warm, spring planting can begin. Fruit trees will break winter dormancy. Pastures will start to green up. Livestock become more active. But as spring turns into summer, the weather can also provide challenges — the greatest of which are heat waves and droughts.

In the summer, temperatures may soar past levels where plants and animals begin to be affected and can reach a point where production is negatively impacted. At worst, damage or even death can occur. Drought is an even greater threat to crops. A lack of water causes even more immediate production losses and a total loss is certainly possible.

For many locations, heat and drought go hand in hand during the summer, and just about every year somewhere in the country heat waves and drought occur. Every farmer is bound to find themselves dealing with drought at some point. What constitutes hot temperatures depends on where you live. For Fairbanks, Alaska, 90°F is rare but has occurred.

In Columbia, South Carolina, where it can top 90°F many times in the course of a summer, even 100 degrees is not that unusual. This is important since to a large degree agricultural operations are geared for normal conditions; the type of temperatures normally experienced and expected. With the relatively cool waters of the Pacific just offshore, the West Coast has only brief hot spells when an offshore flow develops in summer. From the Rockies eastward, abnormally hot conditions become more of a periodic threat.

corn field drought
For farmers, the decision to put in an irrigation system is often dictated by economics. One must consider the cost of the system versus the possible crop losses due to drought.

Livestock and poultry can be directly affected by heat. For cattle, temperatures of 80°F to 85°F will start to have an impact. Temperatures above 90 degrees can pose serious health risks. The same is true for sheep and goats. Swine are even more susceptible to the heat. With poultry, egg production will start to fall off with temperatures above 80°F.

When temperatures get above 85°F, significant physical effects are noted. Temperatures above 90°F can lead to heat stress, illness and even death.

For plants, heat can also cause problems, but it’s a lack of water that is most critical. As soon as the water needs of a plant aren’t being met, you start having problems. You can have reduced yield for edible plants or crops even without visible damage. Temporary wilting can occur and even if the plant recovers, growth can be stunted. Plants may shed their leaves to conserve water.

Permanent wilting means death for annual plants and an end to the growing season for perennials. Water is more critical in certain life stages such as germination and initial development when roots are small. The reproductive phase also requires more water. Water usage varies with plant type with some plants being more or less susceptible to the effects of drought. Whereas other types of drought take weeks or months to develop, plants can begin to feel the effects of reduced water within days of even a good soaking rain.

Like heat, drought is a problem even when it occurs only periodically. In the Southwest, you know it’s going to be dry and you can allow for that. Along the West Coast, you can expect dry summers, increasingly long and dry as you head further south. But for much of the country, rainfall during the growing season is common. It’s the unusual lack of rain that causes problems.

In terms of weather patterns, drought and heat in summer have the same source. An upper-level ridge of high pressure is the culprit. A ridge is a large mound of warm air that extends miles up into the atmosphere.

Under the ridge and to its east, the air is sinking. Air warms as it sinks, so any clouds would dissipate in the sinking air. Besides being warm to start with, the air is heated even further by the strong summer sun shining through cloudless skies. What moisture there is in the ground is quickly evaporated. The dry ground heats up even more, warming the air above it and further strengthening the upper ridge. With upper-level weather systems covering hundreds if not 1,000 miles or more, it’s certain that some place in the country will suffer through a heat wave and drought during any given summer.

Predicting Drought

Can meteorologists predict heat waves and droughts in advance? To a certain extent, yes. The complex computer models that are the basis of weather forecasting today are actually pretty good out to two weeks, especially in terms of upper-level features. Just go to the National Weather Service website, and click on Climatic Outlooks or check out the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

You can see if your region is headed for hot, dry conditions. The Climate Prediction Center also issues the U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook. This is a prediction based on long-range mathematical and statistical models. The Outlook is issued on the third Thursday of each month (it’s tied to the running of those models) and updated on the first Thursday.

Starting with areas already designated as drought stricken, the Outlook predicts whether things will persist or get worse, improve somewhat, or will improve dramatically. It also highlights areas where drought is expected to develop. The Outlook covers the next three months. Always keep in mind that such long-range forecasts can be off considerably. The science of weather forecasting has not yet developed to the point of making highly accurate long-range forecasts.

So, what can we do to combat these summertime weather extremes?

How to Care for Crops in Excessive Heat and Prolonged Drought

Mulching can reduce direct evaporation of moisture from the soil. This can be especially helpful for seed germination. For plants, water is critical. Plants evaporate water through the process of evapotranspiration. They transpire water through their leaves and as it evaporates, it helps cool the leaf. But water is also critical since it is the food/nutrient transport system in plants (similar to blood in an animal). And the water vital for plant existence is taken from the soil by the root system.

One caveat of this is the importance of soil type. Sandy soils drain quickly, not retaining much water for plants. Pure clay soils are often too wet for good root development.

Loam soils (a mixture of sand and clay) are best. Mixing in organic matter also helps retain moisture.

drought-stricken soil
Sandy soils drain quickly, not retaining much water for plants. Pure clay soils are often too wet for good root development.

Mainly, we have to provide water — watering gardens and irrigating crops. For farmers, the decision to put in an irrigation system is often dictated by economics. One must consider the cost of the system versus the possible crop losses due to drought. The statistical probability of a drought in your area would be a major factor.

How much water do we need to provide? The actual amount of water you should supply depends on the remaining moisture content of the soil. This is often difficult to measure precisely. Certainly you can get an idea of how dry a soil is by just feeling it.

Some of the state ag stations actually keep track of soil moisture, but keep in mind this can vary a great deal regionally. The soil moisture supply is a function of rainfall and evaporation.

Rainfall can be measured by simple rain gauges, which are inexpensive and available at many stores featuring outdoor goods. Evaporation from the soil and evapotranspiration from plants is almost impossible to measure in the real world. Various agricultural weather sites measure “pan evaporation,” evaporation from an open water surface. This gives at least an idea of how much water is being lost. Amounts can be significant. On a hot, dry summer day, one-quarter to one-third of an inch of water can evaporate in one day.

Livestock Considerations in Extreme Heat and Drought

For animals, tolerance to heat is directly related to water supply. Cattle and horses cool themselves by sweating like people do. Chickens and pigs pant like dogs do. In both cases, internal water is evaporated causing a cooling effect. With an adequate water supply, animals can deal with a certain amount of excessive heat. Dehydration is much more of a concern.

In terms of livestock and poultry, we must consider the humidity as well as the temperature in judging heat effects.

The Temperature-Humidity Index, now more commonly called the Heat Index, was developed to ascertain the effects of heat on humans but also works for animals. The rate of evaporation and thus the ability of a body to cool itself is a function of the relative humidity of the air. Dry air allows more evaporative cooling. So at the same air temperature, moist air feels warmer to people and animals and puts more heat stress on them.

Cow drinking water to combat heat
With an adequate water supply, animals can deal with a certain amount of excessive heat.

How can we combat heat stress in livestock and poultry? Basically, we can use the same methods we use for humans (although air conditioning would be a bit extreme). Provide sufficient clean and cool water to alleviate the threat of dehydration. Provide shade. Temperatures in the sun can be 10 to 15 degrees warmer than in the shade. In enclosures, ventilation helps. It will keep the heat from building up and aid evaporative cooling.

This can be as simple as having open sides on a shelter or installing ventilation fans. Foggers or misters can also be used.

Editor’s Note: This article appears in the April 2015 issue of Acres U.S.A.

An Introduction to the Organic No-Till Farming Method

By Jeff Moyer

It is the hope and dream of many organic farmers to limit tillage, increase soil organic matter, save money, and improve soil structure on their farms. Organic no-till can fulfill all these goals.

Many organic farmers are accused of overtilling the soil. Tillage is used for pre-plant soil preparation, as a means of managing weeds, and as a method of incorporating fertilizers, crop residue, and soil amendments. Now, armed with new technologies and tools based on sound biological principles, organic producers can begin to reduce or even eliminate tillage from their system.

Organic no-till is both a technique and a tool to achieve farmer’s objectives of reducing tillage and improving soil organic matter. It is also a whole farm system. While there are many ways the system can be implemented, in its simplest form organic no-till includes the following elements:

  • annual or winter annual cover crops that are planted in the fall,
  • overwintered until mature in the spring, and then
  • killed with a special tool called a roller/crimper.
Jeff Moyer, Transitioning to Organic, from the 2015 Eco-Ag Conference & Trade Show. (1 hour, 3 minutes). Listen in as Moyer, the executive director of Rodale Institute, teaches a class on important details to know before you transition your operation to organic.

After the death of the cover crop, cash crops can be planted into the residue with a no-till planter, drill or transplanter. Whether you grow agronomic or horticultural crops, this system can work on your farm, and we’ll show you how to get started with this exciting new technology.

Farmer organic no-till farm
Organic no-till is a rotational tillage system that combines the best aspects of no-till while satisfying the requirements of the USDA organic regulations.

These techniques and tools can work equally well on both conventional (farms based on chemically based practices) and organic farms (farms that follow the USDA’s definition of organic).

Organic no-till is a rotational tillage system that combines the best aspects of no-till while satisfying the requirements of the USDA organic regulations. It is not necessarily a continuous no-till system but one that may include some tillage in rotation, especially to establish the cover crops. After cash crops are planted, no further tillage or cultivation is generally needed, and this greatly reduces the required field operations.

While organic farmers typically work the field several times just to get the crop in the ground, organic no-till farmers can get by with as few as two field operations: rolling the cover crop and planting the cash crop in one pass, and then harvesting the cash crop. By reducing the number of field operations, farmers can save on fuel and time — all the while building up their soil.

Cover crops are the cornerstone of weed management and soil building — so much so that they become as important as the cash crop.

Most organic farmers know something about cover cropping, but with organic no-till you’ll get a chance to sharpen your skills. If you are managing a chemically based operation you can still take advantage of these tools and use cover cropping on your farm. Winter annuals like rye and hairy vetch are common examples, but summer planted buckwheat, field peas, many small grains, and annual legumes are also a possibility. A later chapter on cover crops will tell you more about which cover crops can be killed by rolling and when.

Our rule of thumb is simple: if you can step on the plant and it dies, then you can kill it with a roller/crimper. This means that plants like alfalfa or perennial weeds are not good candidates for rolling.

Farmer no-till cover crop mulch
The author pulling back the killed cover crop to show no-till mulch in action with corn seedlings.

When seeded at the correct time during the fall, these cover crops will get started by developing an extensive root system and growing a small amount of vegetative matter. During the winter, the cover crops will either continue to grow slowly (in warmer climates) or essentially remain dormant (in the north).

There are several benefits to a winter cover crop, including erosion control, nutrient cycling, and microbial habitat in the root zone.

During spring, the cover crops jump to life and really put on biomass. Then they can be killed with the roller/crimper as they reach the peak of their life cycle.

With the winter annuals commonly used in the system, this corresponds to the period when they are entering their reproductive phase. For example, with winter rye, the correct time to roll the cover crop is when the rye is in “anthesis” or producing pollen. With hairy vetch, the vetch should be at least 75 percent in bloom, but 100 percent bloom is even better.

An annual crop typically allocates 20 to 30 percent of its resources toward the process of flowering and seed production. In addition, enzymatic changes at this time cause the plant to begin to senesce, or start the process of aging and breakdown prior to death. During this phase of the plant’s life cycle, it is much more vulnerable, and can be effectively killed by the roller/crimper.

No-till farm roller crimper
The Rodale Institute roller/crimper in action.

The roller/crimper is a specialized tool designed by John Brubaker and myself and tested at the Rodale Institute. It works by rolling the cover crop plants in one direction, crushing them, and crimping their stems.

The roller/crimper can be front mounted on a tractor, while a no-till planter, drill or transplanter brings up the rear, planting directly into the rolled cover crop. Or the roller can be pulled in a separate pass.

Since the system is based on biology and mechanics, it is scale neutral — suitable for use on either small or large farms. The roller/crimper can be pulled behind a tractor, a horse, or even by hand depending on the scale of the operation. While other tools, such as a stalk chopper, rolling harrows, and mowers have been used for this purpose; the roller/crimper has several advantages over other tools. It has been specially designed for organic no-till, and performs its function exceptionally well.

Provided that the cover crop is thick enough, the field will take care of itself for the rest of the season.

The mashed cover crops provide a mulch layer for the cash crop, both preventing the growth of weeds, but also breaking down gradually during the season to provide a long-term slow release of nutrients.

To achieve adequate weed control, the cover crop should be planted at a high rate and produce approximately 2.5 tons of dry matter per acre. For this reason, only certain kinds of cover crops, ones that yield a high amount of biomass, work well for the no-till system. It’s also important to select cover crops with a carbon to nitrogen ratio higher than 20:1. The higher the ratio, the more carbon, and the more slowly the crop will break down.

This will provide a consistent weed management barrier through the season. These topics will be explained in more detail further in this book.

After harvest, the killed cover crops can be disked under and the next round of cover crops is planted for the following season. Thus, the crop year begins in the fall with planning for the following year. For this reason, organic no-till requires considerable long-term planning.

Principles of Organic No-Till

Organic no-till rests on three fundamental principles:

  • soil biology powers the system;
  • cover crops are a source of fertility and weed management; and
  • tillage is limited, and best described as rotational tillage.

In both the goals and ideology, organic no-till is very similar to other kinds of organic farming.

These include soil building with organic matter and soil biology, managing weeds, insects and diseases through diverse and non-chemical means, and achieving general plant health through soil health and good management practices. However, organic no-till uses different methods to achieve those goals. Much more emphasis is placed on cover cropping, which replaces tillage and cultivation as a means of soil building and managing weeds.

Maximize Natural Soil Biology

In organic no-till, as with all types of organic agriculture, biology replaces chemistry. This means that organic farmers let the soil organisms do the work of facilitating nitrogen fixation, improving nutrient cycling, as well as enhancing soil structure and texture.

These soil organisms include macroorganisms like earthworms and as well as microorganisms like soil bacteria and fungi. Organic no-till goes one step further than the current technology offered in organic systems.

By providing nearly year-round cover and limiting tillage, the soil biology is given a chance to thrive and power the system that is the organic farm.

Chemistry, as used by conventional agriculture, has some fundamental problems. When we say chemistry we mean synthetic products such as man-made fertilizers and pesticides.

Conventional no-till is closely tied to herbicide use, since this is the primary means of weed control. Typically, as tillage is reduced herbicide management is increased in an attempt to control weeds. Although some surface residues are generated from no-till, they are not enough to provide consistent weed control.

This dependence on herbicides generates a host of problems, from resistant weeds to the destruction of beneficial insects.

Genetically modified crops (GMOs) are also commonly used in a conventional no-till system since the marriage of herbicide resistant crops and ag chemicals has been a consistent theme.

There are a number of concerns about GMOs — they may cause allergic reactions in sensitive individuals, they can cross pollinate with non-GMO crops, and there is an increased dependence on chemical herbicides and pesticides. GMOs also prevent farmers from saving their own seed since these technologies are all patented. None of these technologies are currently allowed under the USDA organic standards.

About the Author

Author Jeff Moyer
Jeff Moyer

Jeff Moyer has been working in the field of organic agriculture all of his adult life. Over the past 28 years he has been the farm manager/director for the prestigious Rodale Institute located in Southeastern Pennsylvania. Moyer’s interest in agriculture began while growing up on a small farm in Pennsylvania where his family grew and produced much of the food they consumed. Eventually, his desire to participate in the organic movement of the ’70s led him to the Rodale Institute, where he worked for 20 years on designing equipment specifically for the management of cover crops. He currently chairs the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Standards Board and serves as an advisor on organic issues to the Secretary of Agriculture. Jeff is also a founding board member of Pennsylvania Certified Organic, a private non-profit certification agency. He serves (and has served) as a member of several other committees and boards as well. He is also a past president and current member of the Northeast Society of Agricultural Research Managers. Moyer also manages Sky Hollow Farm, a small farm of his own where he and his family have lived for over 30 years.

SOURCE: Organic No-Till Farming

Tillage Types for Soybeans: Traditional, No-Till and Ridge-Till Methods

By Dr. Harold Willis

The tillage methods you use for soybeans should depend on your climate, soil type, slope, crop rotation, machinery and costs.

Traditional Soybean Tillage

Tillage is done for three reasons: to prepare a seedbed or improve-soil structure, to incorporate organic matter and fertilizers, and to control weeds. There are several commonly used tillage methods. The moldboard plow lifts and turns the soil, inverting the plow layer. This causes drastic disturbance in the soil ecosystem, but can be useful in heavy soils if done in the fall. Winter freezing and thawing may improve soil structure.

Chisel plows fracture the soil rather than turning it. Less energy is needed-to pull the plow, and the soil is disturbed less. Some plant residue is left on the surface, which is helpful for reducing erosion.

Discs cut and loosen soil and incorporate much of the plant residue, but they compact the soil beneath the blades.

Field cultivators and springtooth harrows dig and lift the upper layers of soil and do not compact lower soil. Little residue is incorporated.

Rotary hoes break up clods and crusts and leave a fine-particle layer.

Subsoilers and deep chisels are used to fracture subsoil and break up hard-pans, in an attempt to improve drainage and deep soil structure. Generally the effects are temporary, and without increasing soil humus, hard soil conditions will return.

In general, tillage on humus-poor, heavy soils causes deleterious effects, espe­cially if overdone. Soil structure is destroyed, organic matter disappears and ero­sion increases. Tillage operations should be kept to a minimum if soil is poor.

no-till soybean field
A no-till soybean field in Argentina.

No-till Soybean Farming

The above disadvantages of tillage in poor soils have led to the development and promotion of various reduced- and no-till systems. By using special planters that can operate in surface crop residue and by using high levels of herbicide for weed control, crops can be grown fairly successfully (except in northern climates on poorly drained clay soils).

While it is true that reduced-tillage systems do reduce erosion and save fuel, the requirements for high amounts of fertilizer and pesticides and the long-term tendency for deep soil to become depleted in oxygen and toxic are disadvantages. Soil-living pests and diseases often increase, and springtime soil temperatures may be cold.

All of these disadvantages of no-till could be eliminated and most of the advantages obtained if an adequate level of humus (up to 10 to 12%) is main­tained in the soil and if the use of materials toxic to soil organisms is reduced or eliminated (pesticides, some herbicides, high-salt and chlorine-containing fertilizers, over-use of raw manure). Humus and soil life create loose, non-crusting soil structure and break up hard subsoil and hardpans, improving drainage. Erosion is greatly reduced because humus holds soil particles in small clumps (aggregates).

Ridge Planting

A fairly new tillage method that works well in some cases for corn and soybeans is called ridge planting or ridge-till. Rows must be at least 30 inches apart to allow ridges and valleys to be built up (branching varieties of soybeans must be used). The crop is planted on top of the ridges, with crop residue left in the valleys. Earlier planting is possible because ridge tops warm up soon, and wind erosion is reduced. Ridges catch more snow in winter. Weeds can be cultivated out in the valleys and if necessary, in-row herbicide can be used. Ridges must be built up each year, and machinery must be compatible with the ridge widths.

Still don’t know? Try these studies to learn more about the practical results from no-till and tillage studies:

Rodale Institute study on No-Till

A Yield Comparison from No-Till & Till (Kansas State University)

Benefits of No-Till (Michigan State University)

Soybean Seeding Rates by Tillage (Ohio State University)

No-Till Versus Conventional Soybeans (University of Kentucky)

Source: How to Grow Super Soybeans

Planting Soybeans: Calculating Density, Depth & Method

By Dr. Harold Willis

To achieve a desired soybean plant population, you need to calculate the number of seeds required. Some seeds will not germinate, and some that germinate will not become established because of weather, pests or disease. Generally, if the seedbed and planter are good, about 90 to 95% of germinated seedlings will become established. To figure planting rate, use this formula:

Density 1

You need to plant 7.9 seeds per foot of row to get six plants per foot. Since soybean seed is usually sold by weight rather than by number of seeds, you need to know the number of seeds per pound to figure pounds needed per acre. If the seed dealer cannot give you number of seeds per pound, weigh a few one-ounce samples on a postage scale to get an average figure.

The number of linear feet of row per acre can be found from the accompany­ing table. Then figure the pounds of seed needed per acre:

Calibrate your planter accordingly and check seed drop in the field regularly.

Soybean Planting Depth

Soybean seeds should be planted deep enough to absorb enough moisture to germinate, but not so deep that they have trouble emerging from the soil. Some varieties can emerge from greater depths than others. Typical planting depths are 1 to 1½ inches, but if soil is low in moisture or sandy, plant 2 inches deep. In cool, moist soil seed can be planted 1 inch deep if there is no danger from herbicides.

Soybean Planting Method

Best results are obtained using a unit planter or grain drill to plant in rows. Drills usually do not handle rough seedbeds as well as plant­ers. Broadcasting or aerial seeding followed by light tillage to cover seed often results in uneven emergence and stands that are too thin in some areas and too thick in others.

soybean planting method

Replanting Soybeans

If a stand of soybeans is reduced by disease, pests, hail, flood­ing, herbicide injury, etc., replanting may be considered. If the loss is covered by crop insurance, consult your insurance agent first. If most of a field is lost, be sure enough growing season is left for beans to mature.

If the surviving population is 75% or more of the desired population, replanting is not necessary (unless weeds will be a problem) since the surviv­ing plants will branch out to fill in gaps.

When replanting, you may want to use shallow tillage to kill young weeds. Do not apply herbicide. Use a variety with maturity date appropriate for the later planting date, increase the seeding rate by 10 to 15% and plant in narrow rows to increase yield.

Source: How to Grow Super Soybeans

Soybean Planting: Intercropping and Rotations

By Dr. Harold Willis

Most people grow soybeans in a crop rotation sequence, typically with a non-legume such as corn, small grains, sorghum or cotton. The yield of the non-legume is improved because of the left-over nitrogen from the soybean root nodules. Also, disease, pest and weed problems are reduced in rotations compared to growing one crop continuously. These disadvantages can be overcome if soil is in peak fertility and condition.

Soybeans are also often grown in a double-cropping system, with two crops being grown in the same year. Winter wheat followed by soybeans is the most common; snapbeans or peas followed by soybeans is another. Timing is critical in more northerly areas.

soybean intercrop
Instead of clean rows, some farmers have success with more biodiversity in their fields.

Intercropping, in which two crops are planted in alternating rows or strips, or in which one crop is broadcast into the other, has been tried with mixed success. Sometimes aerial seeding was used. Conditions must be just right. Examples include planting soybeans in standing small grain, small grain into growing soybeans, ryegrass or clover into growing soybeans, alternate strips of corn and soybeans, corn and soybeans in the same rows, and early soybeans into a grow­ing late variety. Interseeding grasses or legume-grass mixtures into soybeans at the leaf-yellow or leaf-drop stage will provide an excellent erosion reducing ground cover over the winter that can be worked into the soil next spring.

Source: How to Grow Super Soybeans

Soybean Seedbed Preparation

By Dr. Harold Willis

An ideal seedbed for soybeans should provide adequate moisture and warmth for rapid germination and seedling establish­ment. Soil should be friable and not crusted. Germination of weed seeds should be delayed or prevented.

Soybeans need a lot of moisture to germinate (50% of their weight). Soil moisture must be sufficient at planting depth. There should be good soil-seed contact. If soybeans get off to a rapid start, young weeds can be shaded out. One way to discourage weeds is to prepare an ideal seedbed only in the rows and leave the soil rough and cloddy or covered by residue between the rows. Another approach is to prepare the seedbed well ahead of planting, let the weeds germinate, then re-till just before planting to kill sprouted weeds.

Most people use herbicides to control weeds, but such chemicals may have their deleterious environmental effects, and their use can be avoided.

soybean seeder
A farmer seeds his fields. Soybeans need a lot of moisture to germinate.

As mentioned in this article, use good quality seed of high germination rate (80 to 90% or more). If soybeans have not been grown on that soil for three to five years, it is best to inoculate the seed with the proper strain of nitrogen-fixing bacteria (Rhizobium). Some strains are more effective nitrogen fixers than others. The bacterial inoculant can be applied to the seed just before planting time or in the row during planting (the latter requires more inoculant).

Seed can also be treated with fungicide, but unless the soil is cold, if the germination rate is over 85%, there is little advantage in this. Lower germination seed may have a 5 to 10% increase in emergence if treated.

Soybean germination per row chart
Courtesy of How to Grow Super Soybeans

Early planting usually gives higher yields, but only if a good stand is obtained. Cool weather will delay germination and allow root diseases or pests to get a start. Soil and air temperatures of 55 to 60 degrees F. are needed for good germination and seedling establishment. Germination rates increase at warmer temperatures, and high quality seed is more likely to produce a good stand. The predicted weather is probably the most important factor to consider, along with your local soil conditions. Adequate moisture is essential for germination.

Source: How to Grow Super Soybeans