By Don Higgins
When I started planting soybean food plots, I would simply get some seed from my farming neighbors. It was hit or miss. Some years, it worked great, and I would enjoy some excellent hunting action throughout the season. Other years, it didn’t work so well because the soybeans would “shatter.” That’s a farming term that simply means the bean pods would split open and drop the soybeans onto the ground. I probably don’t need to tell you that a soybean food plot with beans lying in the mud or under a few inches of snow is not a good thing.
Production agriculture is not concerned with soybeans that remain shatter resistant into January and February — long after the normal harvest season — but, for the food-plotter, this is very important. Along with some business partners, I began testing different varieties of soybeans to find those that are the most shatter resistant. Today, we market a soybean seed blend based on the shatter resistance of the soybeans within the blend. Our tests have proven the soybeans in this blend will remain in the pods well into spring.
There has also been some recent interest among food-plotters in “forage” soybeans. These plants have larger leaves and generally grow to taller heights than traditional ag soybeans, thus, producing more browse per acre. Forage soybeans are also supposed to regenerate quickly after they’ve been browsed.
My experience with forage soybeans showed that the extra forage produced per acre came at the cost of fewer soybeans produced. In other words, the extra forage produced was a benefit during the growing season, but it came at the expense of the actual soybean yield, which is important later in the year when quality food sources are limited.
Having done many side-by-side trials with various soybean varieties, I’m convinced forage soybeans are not the best option in my region. However, I believe they have their place for the food-plotter. When deer really need them, forage soybeans cannot compare to shatter-resistant ag soybeans in terms of the quality and quantity. This is largely because most forage soybeans are longer maturing, meaning they do not have a chance to fully mature in my region before they’re killed by frost. My honest opinion: In Southern states, forage soybeans are likely a great option for whitetail food-plotters. The longer growing season in this region gives them time to mature, thus producing a good crop of soybeans after a long growing season of providing leafy forage.
Incidentally, we have sent comparable leaf samples to an independent lab from forage soybeans and shatter-resistant ag soybeans and found no significant difference in the quality of the forage. In fact, the analysis of shatter-resistant soybeans came back a tad better in terms of crude protein and relative feed value than the forage soybeans.
Which soybean variety should you plant in your food plots? That is something only you can answer. With all the hype surrounding many food-plot products, I suggest you keep an open mind and do your own informal research. Try different strains to see which seed grows best in your soil.
For starters, if you live in the Midwest or Upper Great Lakes, try shatter-resistant soybeans. If your region typically experiences snow and bitter-cold winters, you will probably find these soybeans offer a prime food source late into the season.
If you live in the South, I would suggest that you try a forage soybean. The longer growing season that you have will allow these soybeans to mature, while offering significant browsing opportunities for whitetails.
Don’t make the mistake that I once did by thinking that another food-plot crop might be better than soybeans, especially during the late season. No matter where you are, and no matter what your food-plot goals, there is likely a soybean seed product to fit the bill. It’s just a matter of doing a little experimenting to find one that works best for you.
Did I forget to mention that the last four bucks I shot were taken in the late season — and all were in or near my soybean food plots? Yep, those soybeans work like magic.
— Don Higgins is an accomplished big-buck hunter from Illinois. For more information on his soybean seed blends, visit www.realworldwildlifeseed.com.
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