This year I assisted in verifying plot results for the 100 Bushel Challenge, a program encouraging soybean producers to experiment with new production techniques. Because of the importance of ensuring accurate results, harvest must be witnessed and validated, requiring two independent verifications to qualify.

How the Verification Process Works

The verification process includes harvesting a minimum of two acres, measuring the harvest area, weighing the grain on a certified commercial scale, measuring moisture and foreign matter and then calculating yield at 13% moisture. The Yield Challenge program requires that this process be witnessed by two independent verifiers who, along with the grower, sign the data sheet. The sheet is then submitted to Illinois State University for further verification of the calculations.

Highlights from 2014

What is to be made of the 2014 soybean harvest and the advances in soybean production? Many attitudes, practices and other variables were evident in the fields I visited this fall.

  • Farmers are increasingly convinced that soybeans have more top-end yield potential to be discovered. The options in the farmer’s toolbox are continuing to expand and are being put to use on more and more soybean acres.
  • The bond between farmers and retailers is producing more cooperation in experimenting and treating soybeans as an important crop. Everyone is learning together.
  • Practices that gave yield bumps in previous years had different responses this year. Just a reminder that there are no guaranteed silver bullets, no technology works every year and weather is often the big equalizer.
  • Economic decisions are different on $14 soybean prices compared to $8 soybeans, so practices over the years are continually being re-evaluated and farmers have to make tighter decisions.
  • Genetics choices proved important for disease control, which is critical for capturing top-end yield potential.
  • The contestants used a wide variety of genetics and management practices. While farmers shared the same goal of breaking 100 bushels, the genetics they chose were diverse—GMO, non-GMO and organic fields were all enrolled.
  • Plot entries included beans on beans, beans after one year of corn and beans after multiple years of corn.
  • 15-inch rows dominated most of the plots, but several fields stayed with 30-inch row spacing.
  • Foliar treatments were a common element among all entrants.

While 2014 initially looked promising and set some new average field records, I encountered a number of farmers who had to back down their expectations once the weights came in. Yields were good in most places, but not up to the early hype. Several farmers commented that last year was much better on their farms.

2014 Weather-Influenced Outcomes

In 2014 the one-two punch came from weather and soil conditions. First, the weather held many out of their bean fields due to a nearly two-week period of rainfall at planting. Following the extended rain the crop was finally planted, but soil conditions remained wet, and soybeans don’t like wet feet. I viewed fields with both SDS and white mold taking a bite out of the final yield and test weights.

The good news was that improved management of tillage and soil compaction, combined with multiple uses of fertility and fungicide products at appropriate times, held the yields higher than in previous seasons. However, ponding and drainage were common problems throughout the state, worse than in average years, and took the edge off many fields.

Farmers and their consultants are ever more tuned in to treating soybeans as a high return crop that rewards good management practices. For these 100 Bushel Challenge entrants it is no longer referred to as just the “rotation crop”, a mindset of too many just a few years ago.

Jim Nelson works with genetics and specialty or value-added grains. He was the Illinois Yield Challenge Coordinator in 2010 through 2012, and returned this year as a verifier for the ISA 100 Bushel Challenge.

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About the Author: Jim Nelson