This past month the Illinois Soybean Association hosted its annual Soybean Summit in Springfield, Illinois with an amazing turnout. During such events, it can become overwhelming to take in and understand all the information that was presented. I tend to find myself reviewing complicated information for several months after learning about it, and ultimately trying to determine how to implement needed changes before I forget about it all together.

Over this past year I have coined the term, “Become a Student of Your Field,” meaning listen and watch what kind of story or message a particular field is telling you. As with new parents, newborns find ways to communicate their needs and wants without verbally saying, “I need this.” A soybean field is very similar if you know what you are looking for or at.

Yield contest winners know their crops and learn to recognize all the potential cues. In most cases, these non-verbal cues are expressed all season long with stunted plant or discolored foliage, but the message isn’t recognized until harvest when we watch the yield monitor. Once we determine the need of a field over time or the crop in each year, we then can implement the information and research that was learned. Therefore, we must listen, watch and learn from our soybean crops and study what they are teaching us.

Too often in our industry growers are told doing this practice or by adding that product will increase yields by 10 to 15 bushels. When in fact, these actions only protect the potential yield, not increase and only if that problem appears in the given field and given year.

One can learn a lot about a projected soybean field by evaluating a soil sample and productivity index, and establish its S.W.O.T. (Strengths, Weakness, Opportunity, Threats) analysis. This basic information will give better insight to what a soybean crop could experience in the coming year. Once we recognize the limiting factors, we can recognize or search out potential solutions.

The soil is the media that supports the play. Growers spend their efforts managing the crop with little consideration about truly managing the soil, other than as a place to put seed and fertilizers. Some soil topics to consider include:

  • Organic matter as it influences:
    • water holding capacity
    • water infiltration rate
    • nutrient holding capacity
    • nutrient mineralization ability
    • can impact compaction
    • yield potential
  • Soil pH as it influences:
    • key nutrients availability
    • metals availability and attraction to key nutrients
    • microbial activity
    • nitrogen fixation
  • Soil types as it determines:
    • water holding capacity
    • nutrient availability
    • microbial activity
    • ability to hold commercial fertilizer nutrients
    • can impact compaction
  • Field elevation since it can:
    • impact organic matter
    • impact soil erosion
    • impact potential yield

There are so many options that producers can implement on their farms to reduce production risk and economic risk while increasing yield potential. Again, products and action often only protect the TOP end yield potential and if a given practices or product is being promoted it may or may not work in each grower’s situation.

At the end of the day, soybean producers only have so many crops to produce across their career, so it’s very important to take good notes – not only during education meetings, but also regarding each soybean crop and field. This information can be valuable in determining future needs and investments on one’s farm.

Illinois is blessed to have a strong network of soybean CCAs and industry support, and if any grower needs a study partner, please reach out to your local CCA Soy Envoy or Certified Crop Adviser. We are eager to learn with you.

If you missed the Summit you can still attend one of the five Better Bean Series events this winter – held the last week of January and in February, and hosted by the Illinois Soybean Association, the 2017 CCA Soy Envoys and their companies.

CCA Todd Steinacher is an agronomist at AgriGold. He works with growers to better manage their nitrogen and weed control needs, along with understanding the best way to estimate cost to generate a strong ROI. He is a 2017 Illinois Soybean Association CCA Soy Envoy.

For the past two years Steinacher has worked as a reginal agronomist for AgriGold®, covering west-central Illinois. Prior to working with AgriGold, he was with the GROWMARK/FS system for nearly 10 years working as a crop specialist, seed specialist and a field sales agronomist. Steinacher has an associate degree from Lincoln Land Community College, a B.S. in agronomy and business from Western Illinois University and a master’s degree from the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana.

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About the Author: Todd Steinacher

Steinacher is an ISA CCA Soy Envoy alum and currently supports ISA on agronomic content as well as serving as an Illinois CCA board member. He was recently awarded the 2020 IL CCA of the Year & the 2021 International CCA of the Year. He has over 15 years agronomic experience, currently working with AgriGold and GROWMARK previously. Steinacher has an associate degree from Lincoln Land Community College, a B.S. in agronomy and business from Western Illinois University and a master’s degree in crop science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.