Weather Opens Soybean Double Crop Option

The warm spring has made double cropping soybeans an attractive option for some farmers. Adequate soil moisture is still a big question, but higher prices may make it worth the risk.

Published on: Jun 25, 2012

The near-record warm winter the Midwest experienced this year, combined with the early and unusually warm spring, has caused wheat to mature sooner than normal, which could let farmers plant a second crop like soybeans to increase their profit potential using the same land, an Ohio State University Extension educator said.

Traditionally, wheat in Ohio comes off around July 4 and sometimes as late as July 20, says Ed Lentz, an associate professor who specializes in crop production and agronomy.

But for growers to be considering taking wheat off this year around June 20 is highly unusual, he said.

"Ohio typically is too far north to have a growing season long enough to raise two crops before a killing frost," Lentz says "But if you think about it, how often do we get a record warm winter and early spring such as this with everything two or three weeks ahead of time?

Weather Opens Soybean Double Crop Option
Weather Opens Soybean Double Crop Option

"It's been a very unusual year."

While Ohio growers have had seasons that have been compatible for planting double crops in the past, it doesn't happen very often, Lentz says.

"Growers in southern Ohio typically have a better chance of double cropping because they have more days before the first killing frost in October than other parts of the state," he says. "They typically have at least two to four more weeks than northern Ohio.

"But this year, the entire state can potentially look at double cropping, which is highly unusual."

This is significant, considering the financial boost a double crop could potentially mean for a grower's bottom line, Lentz says.

"If you can plant soybeans and still get a harvest and make more money than it took to grow them, you can increase your profits," he says. "It's using the same number of acres but getting the yields and financial benefit from two crops."

But there are issues farmers need to consider before they decide to plant a second crop, Lentz says. Those include the potential for rainfall later in the season and how moist their soil is now, he said.

"Growers will have to make a calculated risk to see if they will get enough moisture later in the season to support the soybeans, because if it is too dry, the crop won't make it," Lentz says. "They'll also have to decide whether to spend on the seeds and fuel for the crop in hopes of making a profit."

Growers also need to consider that since they would be planting soybeans later in the season instead of in May, the yield potential is lower, he says.

"A bushel of beans is bringing in a pretty good price on the market, and at current prices, farmers can make money even if yields are lower than other years," Lentz says.

Late planting also means growers should consider the following management tips to get the best yield possible:

  • Even with adequate moisture at planting, the success of double-crop soybeans is heavily dependent upon rainfall in August and late July. Moisture should be conserved by planting without tillage.
  • Straw should be removed so that is does not interfere with soybean planting. No more than 12 inches of wheat stubble should be left to provide mulch cover for the soybean crop. Excess straw should be baled or chopped and spread evenly on the field.
  • Double-crop soybeans will have a shorter vegetative period before flowering is initiated since day lengths will begin to shorten after the summer solstice. To compensate for less vegetative growth, a producer should consider variety selection, row width and seeding rate to maximize yield potential.
  • Early maturing varieties should be avoided for optimum yield. In the northern half of the state, Group 3.0 to 3.4 should be adequate, and in the southern half, Group 3.4 to 3.8.
  • Narrow rows are a must for optimal yields in double-crop situations.          
  • Seeding rate should be increased to four seeds per foot row in a7-inch row spacing. 

"This is an unusual year," Lentz says. "Wheat is coming off much earlier than normal and we've got good subsoil moisture, but we could use more rain."

Growers are going to have to decide if there is enough moisture in their soil for soybeans when the wheat comes off, he said.

"If it turns out to be too dry, planting the beans will be a futile effort that wastes their time and money," Lentz says. "It's a risk they'll have to consider, but the earlier they plant, the more likely for success."