THOMASBORO, Ill. — As amazing as it was to see Kris Ehler planting soybeans on his east central Illinois farm Feb. 22, it is impressive to see the photograph of one of those tiny seeds sprouting.
His experiment with very early planting was going well March 8, but it all depends on what happens in the coming days when an extended cold snap is expected in Champaign County, Ill.
“It’s been fun,” he said of all the attention his early planting experiment has received.
Ehler, who is in his eighth year of early planting soybean experiments, knows it’s risky business planting so early, but he’s seen a lot of success to date.
The drought year of 2012 was the only year so far the late-planted soybeans yielded better results. The beans planted June 7 got more timely rains and good yields, while the March 22-planted beans didn’t survive the extended drought.
This year is the earliest he has every planted soybeans, and time will soon tell if it’s too early.
“We’ve had a couple of 24- to 48-hour dips in temperature,” he said.
On a frosty March 3 morning, he had to break a crust to check the soil temperature, which was 38 degrees at 4 inches and 33 at 2 inches depth.
“It’s 2 inches deep, where the seeds are planted, that I’m most concerned about,” he said.
But it seems the soybeans survived the first test — it is more the predicted night-time temperatures below 20 that concern him now. He is hoping the cold weather period is broken or followed by some sunny days that will buffer the cool soil temperatures.
“It’s too early to tell,” he said of the seeds’ chances for survival next week.
The upcoming weather is in sharp contrast to the sunny Wednesday, Feb. 22 when he planted two acres of soybeans wearing a short-sleeved shirt. It was 70 degrees outside and soil temperature was 57 degrees at 4-inches depth.
Ehler also planted soybeans Feb. 28 at the end of the warm spell. Those seeds haven’t started to sprout because of the cooler weather, and will have a better chance of survival if they don’t sprout quickly and don’t emerge until after the coldest temperatures are past.
Last year, his soybeans planted March 12 yielded 75.8 bushels per acre. Three different varieties planted March 23 varied from 79.8 to 87 bu./acre, with the fullest season variety of 4.4 maturity getting the best yield.
“It shows the resiliency of soybeans,” he said. “If corn was in the ground at this time, it would never make it,” he said.
He plans to plant soybeans every 30 days in February, March, April, May and June to have comparison planting dates this year.
While Ehler is pushing the limits of early planting, more Midwestern farmers are getting soybeans in the ground about April 20 than in the past.
“There is a slow shift of guys starting to realize the yield potential gains by planting soybeans early,” he said.
Research has shown four-tenths of a bushel yield loss for every day after May 10 that soybeans are planted, he said.