I recently read an article by Gary Schnitkey on farmdoc in regard to the relative decline of soybean yields in Illinois compared to corn yields. Many agronomists around the state, me included, have been bemoaning these stagnant yields for the last decade. Gary makes a great point about how growers have neglected innovation in soybean production while concentrating on improving corn yields. Up until the last 4 years I would have agreed with him whole-heartedly. However, the yields since 2011, except for the drought in 2012, have steadily and significantly improved throughout the state. Here in Southern Illinois we have drastically improved soybean production merely by paying a little more attention to the basics of soybean management.
Innovation and adoption of Best Management Practices have helped increase yields a great deal. Practices like fertilizing the soybean crop separately and spoon feeding the needs of the soybean crop instead of counting on them to scavenge after a corn crop make a difference. Many growers are paying greater attention to innovations in seed enhancements, not just inoculants but also biologicals, micronutrients and additional fungicides. Foliar products like biologicals and micronutrients, along with soil-applied sulfur and calcium, are also adding yield while enjoying a positive ROI.
Finally, the old debate about nitrogen (N) on soybeans has heated up in the last few years with foliar N being applied with fungicide and insecticide at growth stage R3. These applications are paying off with a positive ROI, so they are becoming more of the norm today with many of our growers here in the south. While we aren’t hitting those huge 90+ bpa spikes in 2016, we are more consistent with farm averages today well above 60 bpa when a decade ago they were just above 40 bpa.
While time will tell the story I believe, along with a lot of my agronomists and CCAs here in Illinois, that we are on the threshold of a yield revolution in soybeans. The combination of genetics, products, practices and intense management we have at our disposal shows that the sky is the limit.
We are all aware now that Randy Dowdy hit 171.8 bushels per acre in Georgia this year, so we know the yield potential is there and I believe we’ll continue to see consistent yield improvement on-farm for the foreseeable future.
If you are a soybean grower anywhere in the U.S., not just Illinois, there is a huge resource at ilsoyadvisor.com. Soy Envoys and other experts contribute stories intended to make you think about innovation in your soybean fields. Let’s keep the roll we are on going.
Mike Wilson is a Specialty Products Marketing Coordinator at Wabash Valley Service Company. For over 20 years he has been working with farmers in ten counties in southeastern Illinois to improve economic yield in soybeans, corn and wheat. Mike has been a CCA since 1994 and was part of the Soy Envoy program from 2015 – 2016.