Corn and soybeans have long been the bread and butter of Midwestern agriculture, yet it seems soybeans still finish second.  Illinois growers can raise the soybean status quo, and raise bottom lines.  Here are five reasons why it’s time for soybeans to shine:

  1. High yields are in reach.

Kip Cullers has recorded yields of 139, 154 and 161 bushels per acre on his Missouri farm.  Numerous growers in Arkansas recorded yields greater than 100 bushels for the first time ever in 2013.  They’re attempting new practices and seeing results.  They’re proving what can be achieved through strategic and intensive management practices, and that the rest of the nation’s soybean farmers have an opportunity to reach for higher yields.  In Illinois, our own Yield Challenge participants are getting close.  I have high hopes someone will break the 100-bushel barrier in 2014.  At the Feb. 6 soybean summit in Effingham, Fred Below said by addressing controllable factors, doubling the average yield to about 85 bushels per acre is a realistic goal.

Think about what these numbers would do for the Illinois soybean industry and farmers’ bottom lines.

  1. Soybeans ARE a high value crop.

Many farmers consider corn “king” in terms of profits and yields.  Lower input costs aren’t the reason corn has been more profitable, it’s that corn yields have increased faster relative to beans.  In the 1970s beans tended to be more profitable more often; corn rallied in the 1980s, and the gap is closer now than it has been.  Soybean genetics are top notch and continue to improve. If growers take the same approach they’ve taken with corn, more will realize the profits soybeans can offer their operations.

Farmers who choose to invest in soybean crop inputs are more likely to see higher yields and prove this statement true.

  1. Rotating corn with soybeans offers profits and yields.

Think of it this way: we can grow better corn by growing better soybeans.  More good news? Soybeans in rotation with corn offer economic and agronomic benefits for both crops.  According to U of I economist Gary Schnitkey, the last few seasons have challenged assumptions about continuous corn.  Farmers report yield drags up to 40 bushels/acre compared with corn after soybeans.  Emerson Nafziger, also of U of I, says crop rotation can improve returns on the following year’s corn and improve soybean yields and profits.  For instance, soybeans can show a 5 to 10 percent yield advantage from rotation.

Here’s a quick math lesson (estimates are based on $4.60 per bushel for corn and $11.00 for soybeans):

  • Consider the Illinois average return on continuous corn is $211.50 per acre.
  • Corn after soybeans returns $274 (an additional $62.50/A).
  • Soybeans following a single year of corn deliver $238.75 ($27.25/A more than continuous corn).
  1. Checkoff-funded research supports you.

ISA invests checkoff dollars in research and programs to help farmers adopt the latest strategies to manage crops and boost yields.  Current research focuses on production decisions unique to Illinois, including:

  • Soil fertility
  • Crop rotation
  • Weeds, pests and diseases
  • Variety testing and plant genetics
  • Root and plant health
  • Nutrient management
  • Row spacing and seed populations
  • Herbicide resistance
  • Application technologies
  • Yield response to weather and planting date

These investments come full circle when new information is fed back to farmers through educational programs, field days and online resources like this very website.  This transfer of knowledge is a key part of the puzzle that will improve yields state-wide.

We know there’s always room to improve communication, so we never stop looking for ways to do so.

  1. Innovative uses drive demand and long-term profitability.

Do you know your customers?  About 50 percent of Illinois soybeans stay in the U.S., where they are crushed into protein-rich meal to feed livestock.  Some of the soybean oil left over from the crushed soybeans goes into products you’ll find all around the home—like cleaning supplies, candles and familiar foods like salad dressing, and each acre of soybeans can produce 70 gallons of renewable biodiesel, without impacting the food supply.  The other 50 percent of our soybeans are exported to China to feed hogs, poultry and fish.  These diverse uses, and diverse markets, means the opportunities to satisfy customers and build demand are endless.

New tools and technologies enable us to improve varieties and traits to make sure we’re serving our customer needs at home and abroad.

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