Inspired by soybean growers in the Mid-South topping more than 100 bushels per acre, some Georgia producers decided to swing for the fence this year, too.
They wanted to see what they could do to get over the 100 bushel mark, something that had never happened in Georgia.
And they hit a home run!
Brooks County, Ga., farmer Randy Dowdy, as part of a 60-acre research trial using a dozen different varieties on 4- to 5-acre plots on his farm, clocked 110.66 bushels per acre Sept. 11 on a plot of SS 4917N R2, a state record. Sept. 18, he recorded an average 109.41 bushels per acre on a plot of P47T36R.
The research focused on using an early-planting system, something not typically practiced in Georgia.
The idea for the trial was to get the beans in the ground by mid-April. But this year in south Georgia, where the trial took place, the area received double-digit rain events during the spring.
Beans in the trial were planted between May 6 and 7 and soon after got a double-digit rain event, Dowdy says, with near-record rain for spring planting in the region.
Then, late in the season, drought conditions and triple-digit heat parched the area.
“These beans have been through it,” Dowdy said. “If we can produce 100 bushels with these beans and what they went through, then I know we can replicate it again next year — we can do even better.”
400 bushel-plus corn
Dowdy, who has an established reputation as a national corn yield champion, with yields of 400 bushels and more, is known for a dogged management approach to all of his crops.
And he now adds 100-plus-bushel soybeans to his accomplishments, likely the only farmer to hit such record yields in both soybeans and corn.
The research trial was his first irrigated soybeans, and was a collaborative effort. Eddie McGriff, an agronomist with Southern States, approached Dowdy with the idea for the research.
McGriff partnered with John Woodruff, retired University of Georgia Cooperative Extension soybean specialist, and Pioneer joined the team with Kevin Phillips, DuPont Pioneer field agronomist for the region, and Dan Poston, DuPont Pioneer research manager.
The Pioneer varieties used as part of the research trial focused particularly on varieties used in Mid-South early systems to produce high yields, and the potential for such varieties in Georgia. They were shooting for maturity to match optimal day length to provide varieties with maximum sunlight at pod fill, Phillips says.
Timing is a challenge
“Dowdy deserves congratulations for his management abilities,” Phillips said. “But, is this something everyone should go out and do? In this region, harvesting soybeans timely and early — which this system requires — is hard to time just right, especially if peanuts are in the rotation.
“It’ll likely be a tough fit for most Georgia growers, but I think results of this collaboration show it can be done and replicated.”
“When we sat down and talked about this project, the only thing we could relate to was what Mid-South producers were doing with good management — making 80 to 90 bushels pretty easily, and topping 100 bushels in some instances,” Woodruff says.
The early system historically doesn’t fit Georgia soybean production, which is 250,000 to 300,000 acres annually, usually planted behind wheat, winter grazing or vegetables — or later in the season.
“But I think this research and what Randy has done will get some folks’ attention,” Woodruff says.
“I would say, with caution: let’s have a spirit of exploration, but let’s get the package right before we bet the farm on it. I do think this is probably a step in the right direction, if we’re going to get to that level of production. Others are doing it, and I think if we get everything together, we can do it, too.”
Jared Whitaker, UGA Cooperative Extension soybean specialist, says, “I’m glad they were able to do it. It’s a real accomplishment and shows what can be done with intense management.”
He notes that the previous official record for the state was the in the mid-80 bushels per acre. The state’s average yield has hovered around the mid-to-upper 30 bushels, but in recent years seems to have been going up.
With extra management
It’s a trend, Whitaker says, that might show Georgia’s soybean farmers are more and more seeing that with just a few extra management tricks, they too can increase yields.
There are no great nematode-resistant indeterminate varieties available for the region — and that’s a problem in a region with bad root-knot nematode problems.
The field used for the research was in pine trees three years earlier, then was cleared and an irrigation pivot installed when corn prices could pay for such investment, Dowdy says.
That particular field was used in hopes of minimizing nematode pressure. Even so, nematode damage could be seen in parts of the field.
During the trial, determinate and indeterminate varieties were compared, at both high and low populations, with a high population of around 145,000 to 150,000 plants per acre and a low population of around a 110,000 to 115,000 plants per acre.
Stress was minimized
No inputs were spared in the experiment, and effort was made to keep plant stress as low as possible. Here is the basic outline of this high-yield management approach:
• Pioneer had nine varieties on 40 acres. Southern States had three varieties on 20 acres.
• The Pioneer determinant varieties were Group 5s: P54T94R, P52T86R and P52T50R and P95Y71 and P95Y70. Indeterminate varieties were P93Y92, P45T11R, P47T36R and P48T53R.
• The Southern States varieties were indeterminate SS 4917N R2, and a determinate SS 5112 N R2, and then SS 6810N R2. They were planted at 120,000 and 145,000 per acre for a comparison in the Southern States trials.
• Both the Pioneer and Southern States varieties had the same management program, except the potash source for the Southern States was potash nitrate compared to the muriate used on the Pioneer trials to limit the amount of chloride. Some soybean varieties are sensitive to chloride.
• In addition to the K applied at planting, the soybeans had three gallons of 3-18-18 applied twice foliar, and 100 pounds of 0-0-16 applied through the irrigation system at pod fill.
Fifty pounds of N was applied through the system in three applications at pod fill (20 pounds, 20 pounds and 10 pounds) about 10 days apart. The trial walked a fine line between aggressive fertility and lodging risk. Some lodging happened in places, but after plants put on pods.
• Also, the Southern States varieties SS 4917 and SS5112 were pre-treated with Trilex, Poncho VOTiVO and Excalibre SA (encapsulated inoculant). All varieties were inoculated with ABM inoculant, Priaxor and BioStart in-furrow.
• Morningglories and sicklepod were a problem, but Warrant was used as a pre-, followed three weeks later with Roundup, Reflex and Zidua on all the plots.
• The soybeans received three fungicide applications.
• Dowdy sprayed the soybeans three times to knock down soybean loopers, kudzu bugs, and stink bugs. Two separate stink bug insecticide applications were also made with Dimilin.
Economics and bottom-line returns will play the biggest role in determining whether shooting for higher soybean yields in Georgia pays off for growers.
When prices are right and the opportunity is there, those involved with this experiment say Georgia soybean growers do have an option — and a potential strategy, to go for very high yields.