After being the long-neglected “step-child” feeding on the leftovers from the corn crop, soybeans are beginning to gain respect as a primary crop on many farms. I think the opportunities to boost soybean yields may be even greater than for corn. But we have to learn to pay attention to the details first before investing in all the new products available.
What is your “model” for soybean yield? In the 1970’s, I worked on the development of simulation modeling for predicting crop yields. Our models for corn and soybeans were based on the physiological processes in the plant, how they were affected by environmental conditions, and the resulting effects on crop growth—and ultimately on the crop yield. We developed an analytical thought process that looked at all of the inputs and environmental factors and how they interacted in affecting the growth processes in the plant. In developing such models, the computer forces you to pay attention to the details. If one piece of information is not considered, the model crashes and the “crop” doesn’t grow. You have to go back and provide that piece of information and run the model again. Very tedious and not always practical.
We all work with models in growing crops. We usually don’t think about it, and we don’t build computer programs to put our models to work. But the sum total of our knowledge and experience related to growing the crop is firmly planted in our brain. It guides the decisions we make in growing a crop. Each crop year builds on that experience, as does each article we read, each field day we attend, and each researcher, Certified Crop Adviser, and farmers we talk to. These inputs all help to refine our crop model and help us pay attention to the details of our production system.
I have learned over my 40+ years of advising farmers that most Midwest farmers think first about their corn crop and the soybeans get what is left over—plant nutrients, pest management or even the manager’s time to think about the details. But more and more farmers are realizing that their soybean yields—and overall farm profits—can be increased by giving the soybean management more attention. In the past decade our soybean yields in Illinois have steadily increased.
Credit certainly must be given to better genetic potential, better management systems, and the development of GMO varieties that improve crop protection, nutrient and water use efficiency, and resistance to other stresses. But I give a lot of credit to the farmer’s “model” of how the crop grows and develops and what they personally need to do to achieve high yields. With more knowledge and experience, we are better able to make use of improved genetics and technology, and make better-informed management decisions.
As you learn to pay more attention to the details and fine-tune your own model, you can adjust your management system accordingly and take another step toward higher soybean yields. One of the early crop model researchers told me in the early 1970s, “Crop models give you a black-and-white picture of how the crop responds. If you want a color picture, you have to grow the crop.” That is sound advice today. Take advantage of all of the technology resources available, the best genetics and the growing body of knowledge on how to use them. Improve your “model” and give your soybean crop the status it deserves.
By coupling better record keeping with your improved soybean production model and applying the best technology on a site-specific basis on every field, you can better achieve the yield potential in your soybean crop.