The Early Soybean System may have a fit along the coastal areas of North Carolina, but it's still too early to tell how much of a fit, says the state's soybean specialist.

North Carolina State University soybean specialist Jim Dunphy began research last season in three coastal counties using ESS. He found acceptable yield and quality results in two counties.

Dunphy is looking at Group III through Group V soybeans.

Mid-South producers use ESS as a way to get the soybeans harvested before drought takes hold in August and September. Unlike the Mid-South, however, North Carolina soybean producers aren't as susceptible to August and September drought as their Delta counterparts.

During August and September, Raleigh generally has an inch excess of rainfall. In the Mid-South, however, Stoneville, Miss., has a rainfall deficit of five inches during those two months.

Looking at the potential of ESS in North Carolina, Dunphy and colleagues planted ESS plots in Pamlico, Hyde and Camden counties in 2000, thinking not so much about missing the dry weather, but avoiding problems with hurricanes.

“We're working with Group IIIs, Group IVs and Group Vs,” Dunphy says. A handful of growers in eastern North Carolina are currently growing IVs. Less than five percent of the acreage in North Carolina is in Group IIIs and Group IVs.

In the first year of testing ESS in North Carolina, the results were mixed, Dunphy says.

ESS worked well in Hyde County, but didn't perform well in Camden County. Results in Pamlico County were in between.

Dunphy attributes the early slow growth of the crop in Camden County to cooler than normal temperatures in late April last season. Balancing the need to plant early-season soybeans with late-spring frost is one of the challenges of ESS, Dunphy says. Excessive rain last September also hurt yields of the late-maturing treatments in all three locations.

Dunphy is repeating the test this season in three locations along the North Carolina coast. He planted Group IIIs, Group IVs and Group Vs in early April, early May and early June in 15-inch rows. Because he planted into cool soils, Dunphy used fungicide-treated seeds.

“Like last year, we had an abnormally cool April with a killing frost on the April and April 19,” Dunphy says. “It may be that we're getting too far north because for two years we have not had good luck getting a stand with the Early Soybean System in Camden County.”

Rather than painting ESS with a broad stroke of potential for North Carolina soybean producers, Dunphy says the system may hold some advantages for individual growers to help manage workload. “For corn growers, this could be a mismatch because they will be planting beans as they plant corn.”

As far as hurricanes are concerned, the ESS may help in some years and not in others. “Crops like corn and tobacco can get hit pretty hard by hurricanes,” Dunphy says. “But a low-growing crop like soybeans may, in fact, gain by the rain as much as they lose from the wind. We obviously want to avoid the type of storms we got in 1999, but soybeans have benefited from rains that some of the hurricanes have brought.

“I don't think this is a given that we should be doing this, nor do I think it is a given that we should not,” Dunphy says. “That's why we're taking a look at it. If it looks like we can make it work, then we can focus some on the management that is required with the Early Soybean System.”