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Busting the soybean yield barrier: Arkansas growers break records with 100 bushel-plus crops in 2013

<p>MATT MILES harvested 107-bushel-plus Group 4 soybeans in mid-September.</p>
As an incentive to higher yields, in 2007 the ASPB backed a $50,000 award to the first individual, or individuals, who could certify yields of 100 bushels, or better.

We’ve been waiting and working towards someone breaking the 100-bushel soybean yield barrier for seven years,” says Lanny Ashlock, veteran soybean researcher/agronomist, now with Arkansas Soybean Promotion Board outreach.

As an incentive to higher yields, in 2007 the ASPB backed a $50,000 award to the first individual, or individuals, who could certify yields of 100 bushels, or better.

Until this past year, only yields near 95 bushels were documented. “We’ve always been hopeful that someone would do it, but it didn’t happen,” Ashlock says. “In 2013, though, things looked really good in many parts of southeast Arkansas. We had around 60 entrants in the contest.”

And the barrier was repeatedly broken.

It’s a short, 15-minute drive from Winchester, Ark., south to McGehee.

At the northern end of that drive producer Nelson Crow, harvested 100.78-bushel Group 3 soybeans and in the process became the first in the state to ever punch through the 100-bushel level.

At the southern end of the jaunt, in mid-September, Matt Miles harvested 107.63-bushel Group 4s.

It turns out the men, who are friends, have more than close proximity and incredibly productive soils in common.

Both are focused and unwilling to wait or linger over a needed task, both planted soybeans on fields that had been in corn the year before, both planted on some of their best ground, and both are friends with BASF consultant Brad Koen, who advised them on their winning fields during the growing season.

“We have had some good luck with 3s on Nelson’s farm in the past and he wanted to try some more,” says Koen. “One of the reasons they’re tough to grow is the plant cycles through growth stages so quickly.

“A 3.9 is a sprinter. In order to get the right plant height and fruit set, you’ve really got to manage it and water timely. Management has to be on-key and Nelson — along with his consultant Rick Deviney — does a really good job.

“You can’t put a lot of acres in 3s because they’re so hard to manage. But you can put them on small acreages and they’re a good option because you can start harvesting earlier and spread the harvest out.”

“Don’t plant this bean on heavy soils,” says Crow. “Fifty-seven days after emergence start irrigating — don’t wait on rains. It’s critical to stay on top of irrigation. Make sure pipe is rolled out and waiting to go.”

Producers unable to plant 3s the last two weeks of April through the first week of May should look to another variety, says Crow, whose yield-busting field was planted in Pioneer 93Y92 on 30-inch, single-row beds at 145,000 plants per acre.

“I’ve intended to plant these beans before, but we had a couple of rains and had to go with another variety.”

Another thing they had in common: cool nighttime temperatures.

“We all go to meetings and listen for tips,” says Robb Dedman, Miles’ consultant. “What is Missouri yield king Kip Cullers doing? Well, I’m convinced a big part of it is where he’s located. The temperatures they experience in southwest Missouri allow the beans to respire at night. In 2013, we had a similar situation here.

“Again, I point to Matt’s insistence on being timely. Those contest beans never wanted for anything. Fertility wasn’t an issue. Weed control wasn’t an issue. Irrigation wasn’t an issue.”

While cool nights later in the season were welcome, the lack of warmth at the beginning had Miles — who farms with wife, Sherrie Kay, and son, Layne — in a mild panic.

Koen “had talked me into using Verdict. I trust him very much — he’s top-notch. The price was right, and we needed something for pigweed control.”

About three weeks after application, though, a concerned Miles was calling Dedman and Koen.

“I was burning the phone lines up. The beans had stunted and looked like they were going to die — a train wreck. Well, it turned out that it was just due to the cold temperatures. Others were running into the same problems with all sorts of chemistries.”

Things quickly took a turn for the better when the Asgrow 4632 beans — at a plant population between 145,000 and 150,000 — hit the R1 stage.

“Honestly, we didn’t do much different than normal,” says Miles. “I attribute the majority of this 100-bushel yield to the Good Lord. The nighttime temperatures made the yield.

“I’m not big on snake oil. If you have the right crew, good, conscientious people working with you — from my family to Robb to Desha County Extension Chair Wes Kirkpatrick and all the other folks that help us — and the weather cooperates, the yields will come.”

The Group 4s were blooming before they really began growing, says Dedman. “The cold sat down on them, but once temperatures warmed up, we stuck every bloom. The pod load was just unreal.”

Another common thread between the fields was the new fungicide, Priaxor, a combination of Headline and Xemium.

Xemium, says Crow, “is really good on aerial web blight. With Headline able to work on frogeye, Priaxor deals with two of the toughest soybean diseases we face.”

Miles, following Cullers’ example, also makes use of chicken litter — he applies 9,000 tons  on his cropland annually.

When it came time to harvest the 40 contest acres, an impatient Miles “had to keep saying to myself, ‘Be patient. Allot the time because this field looks so good.’ It was hard, though.

“Robb got there and was bouncing around, all excited, ready to find out if we’d done it. Wes figured that to get 100 bushels, we needed almost two hopper loads. I was under a shade tree watching things develop. They got the first hopper, and I called Robb and asked if the combine was over halfway. He said, ‘We aren’t close to halfway.’”

At that point, says Kirkpatrick, “We were pretty sure Matt had done it.” With a second hopper filled and dumped, the field still wasn’t harvested.

“That’s when my heart started racing, when I really allowed myself to get excited,” says Miles.

High moisture, says Kirkpatrick, “made me a little nervous because we had to correct it to 13 percent. We lost 6 percent of the total weight because of that.”

In the end, though, “It wasn’t even close. We needed around 524 bushels and ended up with over 600. That meant 107.63 bushels per acre.”

Before his 100.78-bushel soybeans were confirmed, recalls Crow, “The guys at the scales knew what was going on. I was sitting there, doing the math in my head: ‘Man, this is going to be close.’ I was as nervous as I’ve been in a long time.”

Koen was alongside. “We were wide-eyed, waiting, fidgeting. It was almost like waiting for a child to be born.”

In the aftermath of such success, Kirkpatrick says seed companies must receive much credit for providing good genetics.

Dedman agrees: “The whole contest process is a race for everyone. Everyone takes pride in it — the consultants, the farmers, the input companies, the seed companies, everyone.”

And says Kirkpatrick, “We have the best farmers in the world here in the Delta. We have excellent soils. Desha County is where three major rivers come together. Eons ago, this area was regularly flooded and soil was deposited. We have very good sandy loams. This year, everything just came together.”

Miles returns to the importance of crew and weather. “My co-workers are very instrumental in this operation. I’d put them up against any crew in the world.

“And, honestly, without weather similar to this year, I feel 100 bushels will be hard to hit again. We may go 10 years without seeing 100 bushels again.

“We can still make consistently good yields, though. Our average yield here was 68 bushels, and the four-year average is around 70 bushels. Then, all of the sudden, we pop up with these big yield bumps.”

See more articles from the Southern Corn and Soybean Production Guide!

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