University of Tennessee Extension recently announced the winners of their soybean yield contest. Justin Woodall was the overall winner as well as irrigated winner. His contest plot, located in Grundy County, Tenn. yielded an impressive 102.59 bu/a. (Tennessee’s state soybean yield average is around 50 bu/a.)
On dryland acres, Josh Watson of Loudon County, Tenn. won with 92.59 bu/a.
Woodall, along with his father, brother and uncle, farms 3,000 acres of soybeans, corn and wheat spread across four counties in Middle Tennessee. The family also owns and operates Woodall Grain Company and runs around 700 head of stocker cattle. This was Woodall’s first year to enter the state’s soybean yield contest, although he was the state’s corn yield contest winner in 2019. We caught up with him to gain insights into how he achieved triple digit soybean yields.
Delta Farm Press: What were the major factors that allowed you to achieve 100+ bushel soybean yields?
Woodall: The two most important factors are fertility and planting date. I’m a big believer in early planted soybeans. My winning beans, an AgriGold 5288 variety, went in the ground on April 7. Where I’m from, soybean planting does not typically begin until late April or early May.
Planting early seems to be the easiest way to pack bushels on a soybean plant. Earlier planting dates seems to be a no-brainer.
In 2018 I planted soybeans on March 21. I think the risks of a late spring freeze are offset by yield potential of early planted soybeans.
DFP: What about fertility?
Woodall: I believe in fertilizing a soybean crop as if it were a corn crop. I think people skimp on their bean crop too much, treating them as a secondary crop and not obtaining their full yield potential.
Every year I’m pulling tissue samples and soil samples. I want to know exactly what’s going on with the soil and the plant so I can identify where to make fertility adjustments. Timing is a huge part of nutrient management.
DFP: Talk about your pest control strategies.
Woodall: For weed management, I’ve done conventional tillage with my soybeans and then no-till corn behind full-year beans. I just think that’s a good way to get rid of your first crop of weeds, and it gives those soybeans a clean seed bed to go into. It also helps with even emergence. Even emergence of soybeans is as important as it is on corn. You’ve got to get those beans out of the ground at the same time.
I’m a firm believer in applying fungicide in soybeans at R3. The high-yielding soybeans were chemigated again through the pivot at R5.
For insect management, I’m keeping eyes on stinkbugs, not letting them defoliate my leaves, and hitting them with a pesticide to keep them below threshold.
DFP: How did this pencil out for you? Was the yield bump worth the extra costs associated with high-yield management strategies?
Woodall: With beans at $11 it’s definitely worth it! Even at $9 soybeans, your fertility costs per acre to gain, say 30 bushels per acre, could still work out. It’s not so much about adding extra nutrients as it is about properly timing those applications. It goes back to pulling tissue tests and knowing what’s in your plants. It’s all about management.
DFP: Will you participate in a yield contest again, and if so, what strategies will you try next?
Woodall: I will definitely participate again. The yield contest is a great incentive to push a farmer to try new things. I was excited to hit 102 bushels, but I know there’s still a lot of potential to be had.
I’m going to continue experimenting with early planting dates and lower plant populations. These soybeans were planted at a 115,000-population rate. I’d like to go lower. The stands on the lower populations are great. It’s giving those plants more room for air flow and branching. I also want to focus more on late season potassium and sulfur.