My name in Jim Nelson and I am ISA Yield Challenge Marketing Coordinator.  I have been with the Yield Challenge since the beginning, but took a two-year hiatus to focus on my seed business.  I am now back and helping market the Yield Challenge to growers and sponsors alike across Illinois.  And I am glad to be back working with high-yield soybeans.

The Illinois Soybean Association Yield Challenge was launched in 2010, sparking growers to explore using new practices and technologies to raise the yield level for this important crop.  The Yield Challenge began as a side-by-side to encourage growers to compare new technologies with their standard practices.  As the Challenge enters its sixth season, available technologies continue to advance, unlocking new opportunities for yield and profits.  As a verifier in 2014, I witnessed a growing commitment to pushing the yields higher.  But this year, I also hear more comments on profitability: “Will we make smart yield and economic decisions?” 

Input decisions rewarding good pay-back go hand-in-hand with pushing yields, and entering yield contests is one way to discover new roads to higher yields.  The addition of the 100 Bushel Contest in 2014 and the Crop District Shootout high-yield awards added for 2015 complement the original Side-by-Side Sponsor Plots introduced in 2010.  If you are not a seasoned yield contestant and don’t have a trusted crop advisor, I suggest entrants start with the traditional Side-by-Side, where the farmer tests practices and technologies against standard practices—Challenge versus Check Plot.  Participants from earlier Challenges are now implementing some tested treatments on increased acreages.  Crop protection products were most popular in the first three years of testing.

Now more are farmers are looking for what other practices should be “teamed up” with technologies already in use on their farms and that includes nutrients, stimulants and biologicals, and combinations of products.  These may have an additional cost, but net return is the goal.  Additional inputs may be justified, even with reduced commodity prices—or especially with low grain prices—if it adds to profits.  The Side-by-Side is a great tool for profit evaluations.

Where do the 100 Bushel Contest and the Crop District Shootout fit in the farmer’s testing toolbox with the shift in commodity prices?  Knowing the factors that limit or break through upper limits helps growers find new yield levels.  A supplier was asked by a farmer to apply a stack of fertility and protection products.  The supplier did not expect the level of yield and profits experienced.  This year the stacked products will be verified on more locations and more acres.  By taking a measured risk of investing in more inputs, the grower found a higher return that he will be taking to more acres in 2015.  The Yield Challenge was designed to be a tool where new technologies, practices, and upper limits can be vetted before they are expanded on more acres.

We welcome you to sign up yourself or through your retail agronomist.  To learn more visit, email me at or ring me 309-825-7542.

Let’s have another great soybean season like 2014!

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About the Author: Jim Nelson