By Mike Staton
Some soybean producers may be considering harvesting severely drought-stressed soybean fields for forage this summer. This is not an easy decision and producers should consider the value of the soybean grain compared to the value of the soybean forage. Other considerations include impacts on crop insurance payments, federal disaster aid and feeding restrictions for all pesticides applied to the soybeans.
Value of soybean grain versus value of soybean forage
Estimating the potential grain yield of drought-stressed soybeans is very difficult. This is because plants that have retained more than 50% of their leaves have the potential to produce a good grain yield as long as significant rain occurs before they stop producing flowers (early August). Be patient and assess the grain yield potential in mid-August. At this time, if more than 50% of the leaves have been lost, the plants have stopped producing flowers and few pods are present, grain yield will be very low.
A reasonable estimate of the dry matter yield for drought-stressed soybean forage would be 1.5 tons per acre. Values will change with the development stage of the crop.
Harvesting for hay
Harvesting soybean forage for silage is preferred over baling it as dry hay because ensiling retains more dry matter during harvest and storage. However, it is possible to make high quality hay from soybeans in the R3 to R5 growth stages. There are lots of leaves at these stages and the pods are less likely to shatter during mowing and raking operations. Use a roller-type mower conditioner set to lay the hay in a wide swath and leave about 4 inches of stubble.