I have logged many miles across Southern WI the past week and have noticed several pockets of soybean that could use some rain. The U.S. Drought Monitor service verifies my wind shield scouting as it places most of southern WI in the abnormally dry category (Image 1). Across southern and central WI the average soybean field I have been in is at the R5.5 to R6 growth stage (full seed). In WI the R6 growth stage on average lasts ~18 days but will range from 9 to 30 days depending upon the weather. Soybean in this stage use about 1/4 to 1/3 inches of water per day. Lack of sufficient water during this growth stage can cause young pods and developing seed to abort reducing the number of seeds per plant (Images 2 &3).
Soybean plants can reduce the size of their leaf pore openings to reduce the loss of water vapor. This also reduces the intake of carbon dioxide and the manufacturing of photosynthates which slows plant growth. When normal soil moisture returns, normal growth is resumed. This ability to reduce metabolic activity allows plants to tolerate dry spells without dying or harming their ability to resume growth when normal moisture returns.
If stress has severely affected pod set and seed fill, and if livestock feed is needed, soybeans can be harvested as a forage for ensiling. Highest protein and yields are obtained from soybean harvested at the R6 to R7 growth stage. Harvesting soybeans for forage between the R1 and R5 stage will result in a very high quality silage, but dry matter yields will be reduced significantly. Forage quality will be reduced from R5 soybean forward if a conditioning process is used during harvest. Conditioning will cause significant seed shattering.