By Harlen Persinger
Farming is like the Super Bowl. But when the combine rolls through fields, it's not the end of the game. Harvest is only half time because the growing season is the period when soybean producers need to address yield-limiting variables that often change every year.
"Variety choice, timely inputs and a host of management decisions can all play critical roles for putting more bushels in the combine hopper," says Shawn Conley, University of Wisconsin-Extension soybean specialist, who oversees the state's soybean yield contest.
Conley notes that each season should start with a plan, the right products and key information. Entering the contest is like opening up an ag playbook where farmers can share their expertise, best practices and take up the challenge to drive yields higher.
Getting their crop off to a quick, early start and good emergence to make sure that soybean rows are shaded by the end of June were the right prescriptions that propelled Bahr Farms Inc., to the top spot in the 2014 Wisconsin Soybean Association Yield Contest. Their entry in Division 4 came in at 84.99 bushels per acre.
"Our 164-acre field, that included the contest plot, was previously planted in corn the past three years," says Kevin Bahr of Belmont, who farms with his son, Daniel, his brother Dale, and his father, Donald Sr., who started the operation. "In this area, Tama soil teamed with high levels of organic matter, constitute the best possible growing package."
Although the Bahrs prefer to plant in April that chore wasn't completed until May 5 last year. They no-tilled Channel 2402R2 Brand soybeans into 30-inch rows with a 16-row John Deere 1770 featuring Martin Sweeps at 155,000 plants per acre. The final stand at harvest on Sept. 28 was 151,000 plants per acre with soybeans averaging 12.5% moisture.
Herbicides used included Durango (Dow's Roundup) at a burn down rate of 24 ounces teamed with .375 ounces of Synchrony. The foliar feeding treatment was Brandt Smart Trio, 1 quart with post Roundup at the pre flower growth stage on June 20.
"From past experience and trials, we've learned the importance of micronutrients and how they pay for themselves," Bahr says. "Soybeans on our 480 acres average in the low 70s and even 80 bushels per acre on the sweet spots the past two years.
"Our management formula for reaching these bin busting yields revolve around grid soil sampling every three years and utilizing variable-rate fertilizer applications," he adds. "By entering the contest you truly gain a solid snapshot for this portion of your crop program. I'm confident that the next plateau, not that far-fetched, is 90 to 100 bushels per acre."
Winning big on virgin ground
Stetzer Brothers LLC, which includes Don, Dave, Duane and Steve, entered the contest for the second year. The Melrose enterprise topped all comers in Division 2 with 81.78 bushels per acre, improving their overall yield by 10.5 bushels from 2013.
Their plot of 28 acres, featuring well drained, heavy bottom ground with a pH around 6.8 had been planted in continuous corn for 20 years. The brothers, who utilize no-till into corn stalks on their 1,750 acres of soybeans, dropped 195,000 seeds per acre in 15-inch rows with a John Deere air seeder on May 7. At harvest time on Oct. 27, the final stand was 185,000 plants per acre with a moisture content of 12.5%.
"To reach a high yield, we strive to get soybeans in during the first week of May. Optimize inoculant is coated on the bulk seed package to help stabilize populations and early growth," Steve says. "Fertility is another key ingredient, so 250 pounds of potash was applied per acre."
A post-emergence pass at the first trifoliate leaf stage included 1.5 pints of Cornerstone Plus and 1.5 pints of Extreme per acre. Headline was put on with a boom sprayer at flowering time. While foxtail and giant ragweed can create problems, the plot remained weed free. And, even though an excess of 30 inches of moisture fell during the growing season, there was no disease pressure.
The Stetzers note that a good weed control program, well-maintained fertility package and timely scouting are essential to achieving consistent, solid yields. One change for next is to reduce plant populations to 165,000 to 170,000 seeds per acre.
"Using this practice not only saves input costs but more pods are filled with three to four beans. This season we even had one 30-acre field that averaged 86 bushels per acre," Steve says. "By entering the contest, we not only learn new practices from other producers but it provides a big challenge to see if we can produce 100 bushels per acre from this ground."
Payoff comes from healthy plants
This was the second year that Ron Ellis, Ellis Farms Inc., and his wife, Roseann, and his son-in-law, Michael Hermann, entered the soybean contest. The Walworth enterprise topped Division 3 with 73.8 bushels per acre.
Minimum, vertical and no-till practices are used on their 850 acres of corn, soybeans, sweet corn and alfalfa crops. Their plot of 32 acres went in May 5 on a silt loam soil following sweet corn.
A 16-row John Deere 1530 planter dropped 112,000 seeds per acres of Jung variety 1250RR2 in 15-inch rows on May 5. When the plot was harvested on September 27, the final stand was 90,000 plants per acre with a moisture level of 13.4%.
"We apply 200 pounds of ammonium sulfate per acre in the fall and shoot for perfect soil conditions which hopefully occur the first week of May," Ellis says. "In the past white mold has been a persistent problem in reducing yields. However, by planting a lower population, this disease is not as widespread and only pops up in a few concentrated spots."
A pre-emergence pass of 2 ounces of Optill and 3.3 ounces of WeatherMAX per acre is used to control waterhemp and wild proso millet. For foliar feeding they apply 2 quarts of 5-0-20-13S with 6 ounces of R1 Headline insecticide and Root Growth Radiate (Loveland) promoter. Once soybeans have canopied there is no further ground traffic in the field.
"Spraying weeds when they are small, extra time spent scouting and paying attention to minor items have been the measuring sticks in achieving consistent yields. We do whatever it takes to maintain a healthy, vigorous plant. That process boils down to inoculating, using treated seed, foliar feeding and controlling insects," says the Walworth County farmer. "For next year we'll stick with lower populations along with doing some tissue testing as part of the overall growing strategy."
Excess rainfall crimps production
Even though Jerry Koser of Almena faced an uphill battle due to a late planting date and excessive rainfall he claimed first prize in Division 1 with a yield of 54.72 bushels per acre. That figure was still above his five-year average of 44 bushels across 400 acres.
Pioneer 91M10 non GMO food-grade soybeans were planted on May 30 at a rate of 165,000 seeds per acre in 30-inch rows with a 12-row John Deere 1770. At harvest the 11 acre plot, featuring a silt loam, very well drained soil was completed October 25 at 14.7% moisture
Koser's seed treatment consisted of a full rate of Optimize and the pre plant herbicide package included 1.5 quarts of Thunder Master, 1 ounce of Sharpen, crop oil and 1 pound of AMS per acre. On July 21, he applied 6 ounces of Select to control grass and volunteer corn and with a fungicide treatment that included 3 ounces of Stratego YLD.
"My management strategy is to no-till into warm soil as soon as possible, avoid compaction by controlling wheel traffic, maintain fertility, achieve top-notch weed control and apply a fungicide for last season disease," Koser says.
"This was less than ideal for soybeans for this area. The crop went in two weeks behind schedule. Moisture amounts were erratic with only 1.4 inches falling from June 28 to Aug. 12," he notes. "The second half of August and September were very wet. Total rainfall for the growing season was 32.4 inches, just too much to produce a bumper crop."