McGehee, Ark.-based Miles Farms set a new state soybean yield record for the 2019 Growing for the Green contest producing 120 bushels per acre on 5 acres within an 80-acre field in Desha County.
Despite a wet spring where low ends of many fields were covered with water, this particular section was in the field middle. "Before the season began, my wife, Sherrie, our son Layne, our consultant Robb Dedman and I picked out fields we established as our 100-bushel plot fields. Mine just happened to be the field that yielded the highest," says Matt Miles, who is an original member of the Arkansas 100-Bushel Club. "The variety of choice was Pioneer 48A60, a late, Group 4 variety they planted on 38-inch twin rows."
Miles did not ramp up management on the winning section. "I spent the same on my 70-bushel soybeans as I did on the 120-bushel soybeans," Miles says. "Although it's great winning yield contests, the farm's goal is always to raise our average yields across the operation, and as Sherrie likes to say, 'do it efficiently.'"
Yield average across the winning field was 90 bushels. The first year Miles Farms reached the 100-bushel mark, people were saying it could not be done. "Then a few folks said it couldn't be done again, so I decided to see if we could do it with different varieties," Miles says.
To date, Miles Farms has reached the 100-bushel goal with six different varieties in three different counties. Miles says he credits no special sauce, secret ingredient, or across-the-board prescription for the yield success, but poultry litter plays a key role.
Ten years ago, the area had a good supply of chicken litter, but it was in short supply last year, so we used it judiciously. Using the "checkbook theory" to estimate nutrient loss, Dedman established 1.5-acre grids on the 80-acre field. "Robb then divided the number of acres by 1.5 and that's how many soil samples were taken," Miles says.
"When you harvest corn, you're hauling off nutrients, so Robb makes sure we replace the level of nutrients that come out from the harvested corn based on a table he uses to evaluate nitrogen, potash, and potassium loss."
Poultry litter is a crude, hard-to-apply, hard-to-calibrate and inconsistent product. "The litter purchased from each poultry operation is analyzed, so we know litter we buy from a poultry operation producing eggs will be high in calcium, and litter from an operation producing chickens for food will be high in potassium," Miles says.
The agronomic value of litter was discovered after leveling a field before planting one season. "A lot of topsoil and nutrients were taken off that field. That typically leads to lower production," Miles says. "We put out a blanket application of litter, tilled it in, and the field looked great and had no low-production zones. Everyone on the farm knew we were on to something good for our soils."
Keys to yield
Miles Farms is a multi-thousand-acre corn, soybean, cotton, and rice operation with varied soils, but a vein of Herbert silt loam runs through that winning 80-acre field and seems to always be a sweet spot for high yields. "That particular soil is a mixture of various soils, but it leans more toward a loamy soil. The CECs (cation exchange capacity) are in the 7 range," Miles says. "Despite having pulled tissue samples, we're not sure why it produces these high yields, but Robb is conducting research to find out what roles the soil and our rotation play."
Miles and his team have been conducting personal and university on-farm strip trial research for 10 years. "We'll take varieties that perform well in university trials and put them in our research trials to see how they react to our management and growing environment," Miles says. "If a variety performs well in our strip trial, we'll dedicate it to a small amount of acreage the next season. If it does well again, we expand it on more acres."
Planting dates and getting an optimum number of final plants per acre play roles in pushing yields. "We dropped between 150,000 to 160,000 seeds per acre and shot for a final per-acre stand count around 120,000," Miles says. "In a field we had this past year, the final stand count was down around 90,000 plants per acre, which I think limited a possible record-setting yield."
Miles Farms also produces cotton, so 38-inch rows are standard across the farm. That pattern also improves furrow irrigation efficiency. "Research shows more narrow row configurations increase soybean yields, but that's a limiting factor I believe we can manage around," Miles says.
"Another limiting factor is poor drainage, so we keep our ditches clear. Hot nighttime temperatures restrict plant respiration and that can limit production. Pipe Planner has increased our irrigation efficiency too."
Soil moisture probes were tested across sections of their operation in 2019. "I will install more this year," Miles says. "I can already see we've been irrigating more than we should to achieve the same yields."
In addition to continuing to use poultry litter, time-released fertilizer is being used on the farm for the second year. "We're variable rating it, so it only goes just where it is needed," Miles says.
Some on-farm research is being transferred to First Step plots in South Dakota where Miles has won a yield contest four of the last five years. "Those First Step plots are teaching tools," Miles says. "It's benefiting students up there, as well as our farm in McGehee."
Miles is part of a new business venture called XtremeAg.farm, an information-access business in which a group of successful farmers allow other farmers to ask production-related questions, obtain advice and receive tips that could increase their production.
One factor leading to the farm's success continues to be an across-the-board attitude of partnership. "I heard a speaker once say people are not as much interested in money as they are time away from the job and being appreciated. That has always stuck with me," Miles says. "Sherrie and I were designing a farm t-shirt several years back and she misspelled family as 'farmily'. That's the way we run our farming operation and it's a key factor in our success."