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Growers find right combo for top soybean yieldsGrowers find right combo for top soybean yields

Slideshow: The winning yield in the 2022 Wisconsin Soybean Association Yield Contest is 96.57 bushels per acre.

Harlen Persinger

March 22, 2023

6 Slides

John Gaska, senior research agronomist with the University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Agronomy, has been involved in the Wisconsin Soybean Association Yield Contest since its inception in 2010. He points out that following a strict management plan interlaced with adequate moisture from Mother Nature is a good recipe for putting more soybeans in the bin. In the past couple of growing seasons, harvesting 100-bushel-per-acre soybeans has been a possibility for some producers in the Badger State.

“There is nothing predictive about soybeans,” Gaska says. “It’s a crop with more moving parts than anyone, except a farmer, realizes, and there are so many nuances to work on to add bushels and achieve higher profits.”

Several steps must mesh to achieve success. These include trait selection, genetics, seed treatments, season-long weed control and soil testing. Other practices to add to this list are fertilization, seeding rates, scouting, planting early, monitoring insect infestations and integrated weed management.

Gaska notes the complications caused by herbicide resistance, particularly related to planting, are becoming more of a concern.

“As the climate keeps changing, there has been a significant yield increase with early planting,” he explains. “However, the challenge is to start laying in a residual herbicide, but the herbicide starts to break down about the time waterhemp begins to germinate. One paramount thought is to maintain a focus on variety selection. Stick with top-notch genetics to help drive yield at harvesttime.”

Consistency pays dividends

For the second time in three years, Midthun Bros. Farm of Arlington earned first place in Division 4 with an average of 96.57 bushels per acre — just .24 bushel above the second-place finisher, Ron Digman from Mount Hope. In 2020, the Midthuns were the first soybean producers in Wisconsin to top the century mark with 105.18 bushels per acre.

The Midthuns raise corn, soybeans and wheat on 1,285 acres in Dane and Columbia counties. Their contest field of 113 acres, which had been in continuous corn for 20 years, features a Plano heavy silt loam soil. Each growing season, they base their fertility program on variable-rate mapping and three-year soil test results.

In the fall of 2021, they applied 250 pounds of potash, 100 pounds of DAP (18-46-0), 15 pounds of elemental sulfur and 10 pounds of Crop Mix LS, which is a micronutrient blend of 8% zinc, 7% sulfur, 3% manganese, 1% boron and 1% copper. Using a 16-row Case IH 1255 planter, they dropped 125,000 seeds per acre of Asgrow AG 20X9 in 30-inch rows on May 6. At harvest on Oct. 8, the moisture test was 12.4%, with a final stand of 110,000 plants per acre.

A frost on May 6 nipped some of the emerging plants, causing mortality or setting them back. They replanted a few areas in the field, which lowered the population at harvest. Dry conditions in June and July may also have reduced yields. However, rains in late August and early September increased the overall size of beans. The area received a total of 33 inches of moisture during the growing season.

The Midthuns’ preemergence herbicide treatment was Authority First at 6 ounces per acre and 1 pint of Dual per acre, while the postemergence application included 24 ounces of Credit Xtreme, 5 ounces of Outlook and 6 ounces of Clethodim 2E per acre — along with 17 pounds of AMS and 18 pounds of Hook per 100 gallons of water per acre. In most years, waterhemp poses the biggest weed problem in the crop.

The base seed treatment package consisted of Promo for the inoculant, and Warden CX for broad-spectrum diseases and insect protection. An addition of Saltro to the base treatment for protection from soybean cyst nematode and sudden death syndrome was applied on the field, along with 0.8 ounce of Rightstart to control white mold. No foliar fungicide was applied on the contest field in 2021.

“Planting as early as possible in 30-inch rows and maintaining fertility with a specific focus on potassium, sulfur and micronutrients were the primary management components that contributed to higher-than-average yields,” says Pete Clothier, master agronomist for United Cooperative in Prairie du Sac, Wis. “Another key is going with a planting rate of 125,000 seeds per acre. This seems to be the right population and sweet spot to achieve the best canopy for white mold control and to mitigate waterhemp pressure.

“For soybean producers in this area, the bottom line is all about return on investment, and each production step has to carry its own weight. As Midthun Bros. Farm adds more soybean acres to their rotation, they will continue to shoot for consistency and implement those practices to gain more yield.”

Solid production scorecard

Kelley Farms of Arlington was the top grower in Division 3 with 88.33 bushels per acre. The 6,000-acre Columbia County operation spreads across a 15-mile radius and includes Dennis and Jackie Kelley and their three sons, Jason, Chris and Dustin.

Besides soybeans, the family raises corn, wheat and alfalfa, and prefers using conventional tillage. Over the past five years, their beans have averaged 70 to 75 bushels per acre. The 47-acre test plot, consisting of a Plano loam over a clay subsoil, had been planted in corn for 20 years because that crop offered higher returns vs. soybeans. However, in 2022 they switched the rotation due to an increasing infestation of rootworms and averaged 82 bushels per acre across the entire field.

The Kelleys’ tillage program begins in the fall by making one pass on cornstalks with a 40-foot high-speed disk to help break down excess residue. Come spring, to ensure an excellent seedbed and cover any stalks still on the surface, they repeat this process before planting.

On April 29, they planted 125,000 seeds per acre of Asgrow 24XF1 in 30-inch rows with a 24-row Case IH planter. Beans were harvested Oct. 8 at 10.9% moisture, with a final stand of 120,000 plants per acre.

To help control grasses and waterhemp, 3 pints of Warrant and 7.5 ounces of Glory 4L per acre for other broadleaves were applied after planting before preemergence. Their postemergence spray package included 1 quart of Roundup PowerMax, 3 pints of Warrant, 1 quart of Nutrifuse DX 400 and 8 ounces of Clethodim 2E for volunteer corn. Due to the cool spring temperatures and several years of growing corn on corn, soybean seeds were treated with OptimizeXC teamed with CruiserMax Vibrance. At the R3 growth stage, a pass was made with 8 ounces of Delaro fungicide and 1.28 ounces of Cavalry 2 insecticide to protect leaves from Japanese beetles, soybeans aphids and other bugs.

“Taking soil samples every four years on 2.5-acre grids, timely scouting, fungicide treatments and monitoring weed infestations — especially waterhemp — were key management practices that paid dividends for us,” Dennis says. “Using a land roller to push down little stones and provide a more uniform planting surface also helped boost yields on that plot.

“While there is trial and error raising soybeans and weather can be unpredictable, entering the contest was a good learning process for us,” he adds. “It’s also an excellent opportunity for Shawn Lenius, our certified crop specialist with Insight FS in Arlington, to come up with a game plan that will boost yields for next year.”

Top management techniques

This is the third year Josey Wilson from St. Croix Falls entered the yield contest. He topped Division 1 with 72.44 bushels per acre, while his father, Jim, was runner-up for that division with 63.89 bushels. In 2021, the Polk County farmer took second place with 76.15 bushels while his dad had the top yield of 80.09 bushels.

The Wilsons farm 2,500 acres, split near 50% in a corn-soybean rotation. The contest plot, featuring Cushing clay loam soil, covers 100 acres and was planted in beans for the second consecutive year. Prior to planting the first week of May, Wilson applied 150 pounds of potassium and 75 pounds of AMS per acre. He planted Pioneer P16A84X with a 31-row Kinze unit in 15-inch rows, dropping a population of 135,000 seeds per acre. Soybeans were harvested Oct. 10 at 11.5% moisture, with a final stand at 130,000 plants per acre.

In mid-June, Wilson made a pass with glyphosate at a rate of 1 quart per acre. No seed-applied inoculants, foliar feeding or fungicide treatments were made during the growing season.

“Our keys for achieving consistent yields include taking advantage of that early planting window, making sure fertility levels are adequate and maintaining a pH level between 6.5 to 6.7 on the ground, and selecting a variety and maturity that fits our soil type,” Wilson says.

The 22-year-old farmer believes overall yields might be lower than in 2021 due to wet conditions at planting followed by high temperatures in June and July. Waterhemp and minor infestations of grass also reduced overall performance.

“We like to take part in the contest because it helps push our operation,” he adds. “It also enables us to monitor, pick up and implement some new technology every year.”

1st-time entrant

Daniel Ballmer from Evansville was the top finisher in the new contestant award category for 2022 with a yield of 90.01 bushels per acre.

Ballmer Farms LLC operates 800 acres of corn, soybeans, alfalfa and winter wheat in Rock County. The farm’s livestock inventory includes 200 Holstein cows, along with dairy heifers and steers.

The contest plot of 160 acres, featuring a mixture of clay to loam to sandy loam soils, followed alfalfa and 10 years of continuous corn. In the fall, Ballmer round-baled cornstalks for bedding and then ripped or chiseled the ground. A week prior to planting, 200 pounds of potash and 150 pounds of Cal Sul were bulk-spread per acre along with 10,000 gallons of liquid manure per acre. His fertility program is based on three-year soil test results.

Dyna-Gro S28xF92 soybeans were dropped into 30-inch rows at 150,000 seeds per acre with a John Deere 7200 12-row planter on May 12. Beans were harvested Oct. 10 at 13% to 13.5% moisture, with a final stand of 135,000 plants per acre.

The preemergence herbicide treatment was Matador-S and Sonic plus Accomplish Max, made with a John Deere Rogator and 90-foot boom. The post spray before plant canopy included Roundup, Top Gun (Flexstar), Intensity (Select), Strike Force, Outlook, Radiate and Nutrisync Complete. Miravis Neo, Taskforce 3D and Tombstone Helios were the fungicide and insecticide package put out on the field.

“Finding an area with excellent fertility, then following it with proper weed control and, most importantly, receiving a late, timely rain were the key contributing factors for that 90-bushel-per-acre yield,” says Scottey Pate of Nutrien Ag Solutions in Janesville, who monitored the plot throughout the growing season. “I’m sure the farm will continue tweaking a few production practices to achieve a higher yield next year.”

Persinger lives in Milwaukee.

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