Soybean row comparison
Updated: April 8, 2024
By Jarrod Miller , and Dr. Nicole Fiorellino

Soybean Populations, Row Spacings, and Planting Dates

Soybean Row Spacing and Population Studies

Modern soybean varieties can tolerate lower seeding rates and still produce good yields, providing there are no other issues with stand loss or stress. In southern Delaware two studies (2022 and 2023) observed no yield difference when planting full season beans (MG 4.2, late May planting date) when planted between 60,000 to 180,000 seeds per acre (Figure 1). You may consider dropping your seeding rates, considering your regional weather, planting date, and soil conditions.

A chart showing Soybean yields
Figure 1. Soybean yields by a) population, row spacing, and irrigation in 2022 (average yields below the legend) and b) irrigated yields by population and row spacing in 2023. Soybeans were planted in a coastal southern- Delaware climate.

Over both years, 15” row spacing provided an 8-to-10-bushel advantage compared to 30” rows. A narrower row spacing helps soybeans canopy faster, providing more leaf area per acre to increase yields. Water is consistently a major yield limiting factor, where irrigation boosted yields by 26 bushels in 2022. All these yield differences were statistically significant.

Maryland and Delaware Planting Date Studies

Planting soybeans earlier can provide more vegetative growth before flowering commences, closing the canopy earlier and providing more nodes for pods. In years prior, soybeans would be planted after corn, so that early planting usually referred to May. Now we may consider late April to be early, and many mid-western studies have observed yields steadily decline as soybeans are planted later into May. Even when you choose to plant earlier, colder soils (<50°F) and saturated conditions can limit germination and growth. What is considered early for the Mid-Atlantic though, where our climates range from Coastal to Appalachian?

Between 2020-2022, University of Maryland and University of Delaware performed planting date trials for soybeans from lower Delaware (Georgetown) to the mid-shore (Wye Rec, MD), piedmont (Clarksville, MD), and Ridge & Valley (Keedysville). All planting dates were at least two weeks apart, typically starting in mid-April (weather and field conditions permitting) and the final planting date in mid to late May (Table 1).

Table 1. Planting dates for each site and year of the study for early, mid, and later planting dates.
Site Year Early Mid Late
Delaware 2020 8-May 21-May 4-Jun
2021 12-Apr 28-Apr 10-May
2022 13-Apr 26-Apr 11-May
Wye 2021 23-Apr 12-May 28-May
2022 2-May 23-May 7-Jun
Clarksville 2021 21-Apr 5-May 19-May
2022 18-Apr 2-May 28-May
Keedysville 2021 11-May 28-May 7-Jun
2022 28-Apr 11-May 31-May

Although earlier planting (April) did produce earlier canopy closure and sometimes earlier flowering, yields were only statistically different at two site years, the Wye and Clarksville in 2021 (Figure 2). The latest planting date at the Wye (May 28th) did have the lowest yields, compared to either April 23 or May 12, 2021. In Clarksville, yields were higher on the latest planting date of May 19th, compared to April 21st or May 5th. This could be due to the timing of rainfall or temperature conditions during early stages that season, as there was a lot of variability for the first two planting dates in yield.

For the other seven site by year combinations, there was no benefit to planting earlier, but there was also no yield penalty (Figure 2). In fact, we purposely did not apply a seed treatment to provide a more suitable environment for disease pressure. At the UD site in 2021, one row unit planted too deep in April, but yields remained similar to May planting. Freeze damage at UD in 2022 cause the death of some leaf and cotyledon tissue, but the soybeans recovered and matched later planted yields.

A bar chart on soybean yields
Figure 2. Soybean yields based on early (1), mid (2), and later (3) planting dates for soybeans in Delaware (UD), the Wye Rec, MD, Clarksville Rec (CV), MD, and Keedysville Rec (KV), MD.

As there was no clear benefit to planting in mid to late April for soybeans, planting decisions can be made based on field suitability, disease presence, or tillage and soil temperatures. As noted in the population studies above, these decisions should be matched with local knowledge of yield potential, planting dates, and potential freeze damage.

This article appears in April 2024, Volume 15, Issue 1 of the Agronomy News.

Agronomy News, April 2024, Vol. 15, Issue 1

Agronomy News is a statewide newsletter for farmers, consultants, researchers, and educators interested in grain and row crop forage production systems. This newsletter is published once a month during the growing season and will include topics pertinent to agronomic crop production. Subscribers will receive an email with the latest edition.