In late 2013, during the happy aftermath of massive soybean yields, Arkansas producers — three of whom were the first to break the 100-bushel barrier — were reticent to predict another bin-busting crop for 2014.
Mercurial Mother Nature had smiled on their growing season and, they knew, she could just as easily be in a foul mood next time around.
But for many in the state, it turned out, she was just as happy in 2014.
Numerous, extremely pod-heavy fields were easy to find — especially south of Forrest City.
Some 3.15 million acres were planted in soybeans this year.
As of late September, three producers had harvested 100-bushel-plus soybeans in fields that were entered in the state’s yield contest.
A repeat winner
Matt Miles, McGehee, Ark., was the first to repeat the yield feat. His Pioneer P45T11R soybeans cut 100.609 bushels.
Miles’ wife, Sherrie Kay, claimed her own green jacket with a field of Pioneer 48T53R beans that yielded 106.499 bushels.
Thus far, the big yield winner, however, is David Bennett (no relation to the author), who farms outside Lake Village in the southeast corner of the state. His field of Asgrow 4632 soybeans yielded 112.012 bushels — the highest total ever for an entrant in the Grow for the Green contest.
Several weeks before harvest, it was obvious that the central Delta and southeastern parts of Arkansas would bring in bumper soybean crops.
“There are great soybeans all over the area,” said Lanny Ashlock, Arkansas Soybean Promotion Board. “Rains were heavy farther north, but from around Helena south, rains were timely, and farmers were able to manage their crops well.”
Nelson Crow agreed. “We had to irrigate maybe three times,” says the Winchester producer, whose Group 3.9 soybeans last year yielded over 100 bushels. “It seems like every time we began to irrigate, it would rain.”
One key to escalating Arkansas soybean yields is shifting the crop from second-best soils to the best.
'Everybody's pushing beans'
“It used to be in the Mid-South that you put soybeans wherever you didn’t have cotton or rice,” says Crow. “Now, they’ve come out of the closet, and with no more cotton, soybeans are going on our more productive ground.
“We have farmers across the Mid-South who are all trying to maximize bean yields — and there are some really good farmers. We’re all pushing these beans, trying different things, finding out what they can do. It really is new territory.”
A second key is yield contests. Crow says being involved in the yield competition “has at least doubled my knowledge of soybeans.”
The competitive drive of farmers has meant educating themselves on how best to manage the crop. “It’s pretty serious when I pull a combine out of a buckshot field and move it into a contest field to harvest before a rain,” says Matt Miles.
“I think it’s the best soybean contest in the U.S. I’ve looked at some others, and I think Arkansas is setting a precedent that others are trying to follow. The contest is doing what it was designed to do.”
The contests have “generated a ton of interest,” says Wes Kirkpatrick, Desha County Extension chair. “There are 16 contest fields in the county this year.”
‘You want to do it again’
Miles says he and consultant Robb Dedman “have enjoyed the contest. Once you do it, you want to do it again. You chase the yield, and want to compare things you’re trying with what other growers are doing. I’ve made so many contacts through this competition.”
Brad Doyle, president of the Arkansas Soybean Association (ASA), says the friendly competition among farmers “is a great story. In this process, we’re all learning from each other. We’re compiling all the data from the entry forms and, hopefully, we’ll be able to put something out through the ASA to show everyone what the contest entrants are doing to make these outstanding yields.”
Outside Dumas, producer Martin Henry says rains reduced his irrigations by half. “In a normal year, we’d irrigate six or seven times — this year, we irrigated only three times.”
Ashlock is keen to highlight Henry’s management skills.
“What’s unique is that he farms on heavy ground,” Ashlock says. “Even so, last year, his yield contest field harvested 98.5 bushels on a Sharkey clay-type soil. To me, that’s remarkable.”
Advocates irrigation scheduling
Henry is a big advocate of irrigation scheduling programs. “We’re fortunate to have good water around here.
“The whole farm is on the PHAUCET irrigation scheduler. That’s something that needs to be promoted. This is our third year using the program. Using it means wasting 30 percent less water. As valuable as water is, we need to save every drop possible.”
Henry admits there was “a big learning curve” with PHAUCET. “It took a while,” he says, “but we’re comfortable with it now.
“You set up a field on the computer, plug in the flow rate from your well, and the program tells you the hole sizes to pop in the polypipe.
“Years ago, we’d just pop holes all the same, which meant one end of the field would have water, and we’d have to wait for half a day, or more, for the other end of the field to be irrigated.
“PHAUCET works. When the water is out, the field is covered. You aren’t just pouring water out the end of the field while waiting for the whole field to be covered. I wish everyone would try it.”
Henry also credits the yield contests in the state with nudging producers toward strict management of their soybean crops.
“Being involved in the Go for the Green contest has allowed us to learn so much by trying to push our beans. We wouldn’t have done that before.
“Now, we’re not just pushing one field — we’re pushing all of them. So, the contest has really helped Arkansas soybeans.”