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Soybean contest winners share secrets to top yields

soybean contest winners
WINNING PRODUCERS: The winners of the 2017 Wisconsin soybean yield contest are David Lundgren, Amery (left); Kevin Bork, Grand Marsh; Steve Wilkens, Random Lake; and Rick DeVoe, Monroe. Each received a plaque at the Corn/Soy Expo and $1,000.
The highest yield in the 2017 Wisconsin Soybean Association Yield Contest was 93.15 bushels per acre.

During any growing season, a variety of factors determine the total number of bushels that flow into your grain bins. While the latest advancements in data and technology can help you manage a field’s performance down to the square inch, it is often difficult to balance your focus and attention — especially when Mother Nature holds the trump card.

“Producers must strive to determine what management decisions work for them — whether it’s planting date, row spacing, soil fertility, or weed, disease and insect control,” says Shawn Conley, University of Wisconsin-Madison Extension soybean specialist. “Variety selection is far and away the No. 1 decision a grower has to make. The results of your remaining management decisions are predicted on the variety and the traits you select.

“In order to boost yields, growers need to invest in superior genetics,” he adds. “If it’s an inexpensive variety, without a lot of supporting data, you’re taking a risk and are likely to get what you pay for.”

Conley notes that since the Wisconsin Soybean Association Yield Contest began, he has seen consistent and higher yields. He explains that growers are now more innovative, use state-of-the-art technologies, rely on improved genetics, take greater steps to monitor management practices, and treat soybeans as a cash crop.

“The yield contest is rewarding because I gain relationships with these motivated producers and can gain insight to extend into my research projects based on their practices,” Conley says. “I’m confident that within the next two to three years, there will be at least one, and possibly more, growers that will achieve 100 bushels per acre.”

Location is key ingredient
Early planting, receiving adequate moisture at the right time, weekly scouting and eyeballing management practices elevated RnK DeVoe Farms to the top spot in the 2017 Wisconsin Soybean Association Yield Contest. The farm’s entry in Division 4 averaged 93.15 bushels per acre. Rick DeVoe also won first in 2016 with 98.34 bushels, in 2013 with 92.10 bushels and in 2012 with 74.34 bushels.

“Our contest field totaling 225 acres was rye and virgin ground consisting of a silt loam-clay soil,” says DeVoe, who farms 1,700 acres with his wife, Kathy, near Monroe. “We expect soybeans do well in this area because there’s high levels of organic matter. Over the past five years, the average yield over our 700 acres planted to this crop has been 75 bushels.”

Like the previous year, DeVoe no-tilled DuPont Pioneer P31T77R into 30-inch rows in late April at 145,000 plants per acre with a new Case IH high-speed planter. His final stand at harvest on Oct. 12 was 135,000 plants per acre at 12.4% moisture. The fertility package included 200 pounds of DAP, 200 pounds of potash and 100 pounds of Amsul (AMS) per acre.

To achieve improved emergence and better growth, DeVoe’s choice of seed-applied inoculants were SabrEx plus Pioneer PPST and 6 ounces per acre of Ilevo from Bayer. For foliar feeding he applied 1.5 quarts of ENC and 1 pound of Solubor per acre, followed by a second-pass fungicide treatment of Avaris at 6 ounces acre. That was followed by a second pass of StrategoYLD by plane. The herbicide package to control ragweed, lambsquarters and grass included 3.5 ounces of Authority First teamed with 24 ounces of Durango per acre.

“I strive to use the best possible seed treatment, soil-test every year, and always make sure plants receive micronutrients and nitrogen when they are about 8 inches tall,” DeVoe says. “Through the years of entering this yield contest, I’ve been able to find new products, learn from the industry’s professionals and build solid relationships with retailers and other farmers.”                                                        

Optimum production package
2017 was the first year Bork Farms entered the soybean yield contest. The Grand Marsh enterprise topped Division 2 with 91.49 bushels per acre. Kevin Bork, wife Aimee and son Garrett, who handles most of the tillage chores, raise corn, soybeans, hay and rye on 775 acres.

The 40-acre contest plot consisting of sandy loam soil followed five years of corn. Prior to planting in mid-May, the Borks made a tillage pass using a disk or field cultivator and pulled a crumbler behind each one to firm the seedbed. They planted LG Seeds 2020R2 with a 12-row John Deere 1760 planter in 30-inch rows with a final stand of 140,000 plants per acre.

Since their toughest weed problem is common lambsquarters, Bork says he applied 32 ounces of glyphosate at about 4 inches of growth and again just prior to canopy. Organic matter across his fields averages 1% to 2%, so sulfur is an important nutrient for the soybean program. Another practice he relies on to stabilize yields is gathering tissue samples.

His seed-applied inoculant was Poncho 500; foliar feeding included a micronutrient package with fungicide at the final glyphosate pass while Priaxor was used as a precaution fungicide treatment. Due to several days of rain during harvest, beans tested 12% to 16% moisture.

“I entered the contest because some friends placed last year,” Bork says. “To achieve top results, everything has to line up just right with Mother Nature. Perhaps I just got lucky, or maybe several of the management practices I relied on were the primary ingredient for success.”

ALWAYS IMPROVING: Shawn Conley, UW-Madison Extension soybean specialist, says growers get consistently higher yields every year because they use state-of-the-art technologies, rely on improved genetics and take greater steps to monitor management practices.

Reaching beyond status quo
Steve Wilkens of Random Lake outpaced the competition in Division 3 with 89.39 bushels per acre. That total was nearly 30 bushels over the farm’s average bean yield the past five years.

The 32-acre plot was grown on Hochheim silty clay loam soil following a rotation including soybeans, oats and corn. On April 24, Wilkens no-tilled NK S21-M7 Brand soybeans with a Kinze 3500 planter in 15-inch row spacing at a population of 140,000. The crop was harvested on Oct. 20 at 11% moisture at a final stand of 135,000 plants per acre. 

Wilkens’ management program included using Clariva Complete plus Mertect seed treatment to protect against seedling diseases, soybean cyst nematode and sudden death syndrome. He also used Graph-Ex inoculant and Quick Roots to help initiate nodulation and nutrient uptake, and promote early season growth and vigor. Keeping fields free of weeds is also important to Wilkens, and he uses a two-pass herbicide program. The preemergence program consisted of Prefix, Synchrony, 2,4-D and Roundup. The postemergence pass, applied preflower, included Bio-Forge, Fusilade DX and Roundup.

Maintaining fertility levels is one tipping point for Wilkens, who farms with his father, David, a past winner in the contest.

“I rely on annual soil tests and tissue testing during the growing season to achieve desired yields and avoid nutrient deficiencies,” he says.

To set the stage for high yields, every field receives its own fertility recommendation. On average, fields receive 20 pounds of nitrogen, 70 pounds of potash, 140 pounds of potassium, 20 pounds of sulfur, 1.5 pounds of boron, 1.5 pounds of manganese and zinc, and trace amounts of calcium, copper and molybdenum per acre.

The use of foliar feeding and stimulants is also a component of Wilkens’ soybean plan. At V3, an application of Max-In Ultra Manganese, Xtra-Power and X-Cyte was applied. At first flower, Stimulate, X-Cyte, Sugar Mover and Max-In ZMB wre applied. At R3, Trivapro and Endigo ZC were applied.

After figuring all input costs, profit per acre of contest acres versus non-contest acres exceeded $100 per acre.

“Overall, the largest factor in determining yield potential is variety selection. I look for elite-yielding genetics with a solid disease package, and purchase the best seed treatment possible,” Wilkens says. “I want to plant early to maximize the growing season and use practices which promote plant growth later into the season to capture additional energy, thus increasing yields.”

Wilkens also notes that adding a third crop of small grains in the rotation has helped boost yields and minimize disease problems. “2017 was extremely challenging due to excessive rainfall, and missing the window to spray for white mold led to lower yields. I’ll continue to enter the contest, hoping to push yield limits by trying new production strategies,” he says.

Bagging 3 in a row
David Lundgren from Amery topped all entries in Division 1 for the third consecutive year with 67.02 bushels per acre, 7 bushels above the farm’s five-year average. His enterprise includes his wife, Dawn; sons Jake, Blake and Joe; and daughters-in-law Kathy and Becky. They farm 800 acres of corn, soybeans and hay.

Cropland R2C1572 was planted in late April in mostly no-till and vertically tilled ground with a 12-row John Deere 1760. The beans were planted at 140,000 seeds per acre in 30-inch rows. The 60-acre contest plot, featuring Amery silt loam soil, was in a corn-soybean rotation the past five years. With a final stand of 135,000 plants per acre, the moisture level at harvest was 13%.

The Polk County farmer used seed-applied inoculants and put on a foliar feeding of Max-In ZNB and Max-In Boron. To achieve the ultimate in longest-lasting disease protection, postinfection disease control and improved soybean yields, his fungicide treatment included Priaxor.

“Pertinent management practices I rely each season include planting early, no-tilling, soil and tissue testing, and continuously walking fields to monitor any problems,” Lundgren says.

“I will continue to enter the contest because it provides an accurate assessment of our yields and what works best on our farm,” he adds.

Persinger writes from Milwaukee, Wis.


How to enter the 2018 soybean yield contest

Shawn Conley, University of Wisconsin-Madison Extension soybean specialist, shares a list of guidelines for entering the 2018 Wisconsin Soybean Association Yield Contest. He notes the contest is sponsored by the Wisconsin Soybean Programs and was organized to encourage the development of new and innovative management practices, as well as show the importance of using sound cultural practices in Wisconsin soybean production.

Current contest rules
Any sound soybean production system can be entered. Two winners will be selected from each of four geographical divisions in Wisconsin (see map). Each division is based on long-term, 10-year county soybean yield averages. Here are some guidelines for the contest:

• To qualify for the 2018 contest, entrants must be at least 14 years old on Aug. 1. More than one person in a family can enter, but each person must have a separate entry form and pay the fee. Any individual contestant may enter more than one entry in the contest.

• The contest field must be located in Wisconsin, and the contest entry must be at least 5 continuous acres of one variety. Contestants may select the best 5 acres in a soybean field larger than 5 acres and enter that variety.

• The variety that is originally entered must be the same variety that is reported on the harvest report form.

The land entered in the contest must be owned or leased by the entrant. The variety entered must be commercially available.

• There is a $25 fee (personal check) for each entry, which can coincide with the harvest date.

• For the entry to be accepted, a supervisor’s name must be on the contest entry form, along with his or her title, address, telephone number and email. The supervisor is responsible for overseeing all computations and field measurements, and must be present during the harvesting, weighing and moisture testing.

• The contest entry must be harvested in accordance with the harvest procedures set forth by the Wisconsin Soybean Association. Harvest report forms are required to be completed and sent to Conley postmarked no later than seven days after or Dec. 15 — whichever date is earlier. It’s the responsibility for the entrants to see that these forms are properly completed and mailed by the deadline.

Awards and recognition
Plaques and cash prizes will be awarded to the first-place ($1,000) and second-place ($500) winners in each geographic division. The winner is the entry that has the highest soybean yield based on bushels per acre at 13% moisture. In the event of a tie, both entrants will be recognized as co-winners.

Also, the first grower in the state who achieves 100 bushels per acre or more in the contest will be awarded a $2,500 check.

Each entrant is eligible to win only one plaque and cash prize. If an entrant has two or more entries and all the entries place, a plaque and cash prize will be awarded only for the highest-yielding entry. Awards will be presented at the Wisconsin Corn/Soy Expo in Wisconsin Dells in February 2019.

Conley notes that producers are also encouraged to send in a grain sample so they are eligible to receive a soybean quality award.

To review other contest and entry qualifications, visit or email [email protected].

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