Continuing to improve soybean yields demands continued research to fine-tune production systems. That means a need to continue research at all levels − USDA, universities, industry and innovative growers. And that requires on-farm testing by local input suppliers and farmers. You can benefit from all of these programs to learn about new products, practices and ideas that may be implemented in your own soybean production system.
Soybean production practices should be adapted to your own farm, under your management, with your own resources. General production guidelines available from university research and extension programs is a good place to start. Stay up to date on their latest research and recommendations. Many of these studies are funded by the Soybean Checkoff through the United Soybean Board (national), the North Central Soybean Research Program (12 states) and your Illinois Soybean Association. Watch their reports to learn about the latest developments that may have a place on your farm. Industry research also provides important information on ideas for improving soybean production systems.
To find out how to best use specific varieties, production inputs, and technology, information from the company that provides them is a good place to start. They usually have the most research information about how to use their products.
Finding how well a new practice will fit into YOUR soybean production system is best accomplished through your own on-farm adaptive research. Get the best information you can find from public institutions and industry, then evaluate potential for adapting a selection of varieties, production practices, pest management and nutrient management products and methods, and machinery and technology.
Go to meetings and field days, read about new ideas, and talk to other farmers. Keep a list of new ideas for your management system. Test some of them on your farm next season. Try only one or a few of the most promising changes at a time. Compare the new practice against your current production system using side-by-side strips, one or two planter passes wide, of each system. Repeat the paired strips at least 4 times to help remove the effects of soil variability within the field. You can often use your planter monitor to plan and record the treatments for each strip. Then match your combine yield monitor data to these strips at harvest. A simple statistical analysis can be done using computer programs like Microsoft Excel to assess the significance of any yield differences you find. Your county extension educator, or local agribusiness agronomist may be able to help if you need assistance.
Try different comparisons in different fields. Then move forward next season to implement the best ones together on more acreage and see how your systems responds. After 2 or 3 seasons fit the new practices and inputs into your overall soybean production system. While that may seem to be a slow process, it allows you to cycle new practices into the system each year without risking major upsets to your system.
Harold Reetz is a Certified Crop Adviser working as an agronomy consultant in Monticello, Illinois. His areas of expertise include high-yield crop production, precision farming technology, 4R plant nutrient management systems and conservation systems.