My parents have an exceptional soybean plant near their house. This plant is actually on the edge of a neighbor’s corn field and has managed to survive the growing season. Dad counted the pods on this plant estimating an entire field of soybeans like this one could yield 250 bushels per acre. In our area a yield of 40-50 bushels is normal. United States soybeans growers average 44 bushels per acre as a nation.
Is there anything we can learn as farmers from such a small but exceptional sample? Asking Kip Cullers would be a good place to start. Kip Cullers is a repeat soybean yield champion. He recently grew 160bu/a soybeans setting a new all time record. That’s way short of 250, but it’s still quadruple the national average. The key to achieving such high yields and winning yield contests is management. A very intensive field scouting program is a crucial, and you must be willing to think outside the box. Some farmers, including Mr. Cullers, have even used herbicides on their yield trials that would normally hurt a soybean crop.
When a herbicide such as Cobra is applied at just the right time on a young soybean plant one might see additional branching which leads to more pods filled with seed. You can see the plant by my parent’s house has a lot of branches. One reason for this may be that this plant is at the edge of a corn field. It may have been hit with a bit of corn herbicide and survived. Timing an application like this would be very difficult on a large number of acres, so don’t count on seeing chemicals that could potentially kill a soybean crop being applied as normal practice in the near future. We have seen soybeans in our own fields put on extra branching after accidental herbicide drift from another field makes its way onto our beans. History shows us that many great advances in human history have been the result of unintended consequences. This is why we need to keep pushing and trying new things in agriculture.
Better Nutrient Management Increases Yields and Profits
Another reason that plant may have put on so many pods is availability of nutrients and water. You can see that it stands several feet away from any other significant plant growth. This plant didn’t have to compete for food and water with other crops or weeds. Spoon feeding crops the nutrients they need is also important to record yields. A grower may make a dozen or so passes across yield contest acreage in order to feed his plants the right amount of fertilizer at the exact right time. Keep in mind that this type of practice is often not profitable over an entire farm, but we can learn from it. Even though some yield champs are putting more money into a plot than they could sell the grain for at market prices they are pushing the boundaries of what is possible. In the same way that racing technology can eventually find its way into passenger cars, the intensive management of a yield contest participant may find its way into common agricultural practices.
For example many corn farmers apply nitrogen fertilizer either after harvest, before spring planting, or both. To keep nitrogen from leaching out of the soil a farmer must add a product like N-Serve to stabilize the fertilizer in the soil until plants are growing. But now with better equipment and crop knowledge more and more growers are splitting nitrogen applications by waiting until after the corn crop is growing before making the final application. This practice is called side dressing and should be timed so fertilizer is applied when the plant needs it most. Benefits of this method include less potential for N loss reducing over application, and saving money by not needing N-Serve.
Through the efforts of universities, seed companies, equipment manufacturers, and boundary pushing farmers like Kip Cullers the world can expect to see larger crops grown on an ever shrinking amount of farmland to feed, clothe, and fuel an ever growing world population. As a farmer I’m all for finding ways to do more with less all the time. Efficiency is good for my pocket book and good for the environment.