Why helping with the Illinois Yield Challenge, since its inception in 2009, interested me and why Illinois needed this initiative.

After a career in the fertilizer industry I have been doing contract agronomy work with chemical companies, primarily BASF, and have always been interested in increasing soybean yield. I attended the first Soy Yield Challenge organizational meeting in 2009. At that time many farmers were frustrated with soybean yields. They were having a lot of success raising corn yields, but they were hitting a plateau with soybeans. Chemical and seed companies were also anxious to help push soybean yields higher, so a team concept was adopted, usually with a seed, chemical or other input supplier serving as team sponsor. Word was put out by the Illinois Soybean Association (ISA) looking for farmers who were serious about pushing soybean yields higher on their farm. We had great success attracting many growers to the program. I was asked by BASF to captain one of the teams they were sponsoring.

The first team I captained in 2010 included myself and 9 other Logan County soybean growers. Awards would be given to the winning team in each District with the highest increase from their regular program. Yield gain was the goal instead of the more conventional high yield contest. We had a few meetings during the winter discussing what each of us would be doing, as well as getting input from the sponsor and other input supplier agronomists. I am happy to have made many good friends with this group and several are still active in the Yield Challenge. Best of all, we all have pushed yields higher and higher. Some of the members of this first team are now achieving yields in their Yield Challenge entries in the 90s.

From being a Yield Challenge participant, to Team Leader (Captain), and for the past few years a 100-bushel Yield Verifier, I have had a chance to get to know some of the best soybean producers in Illinois.  I haven’t yet been the verifier for a 100-bushels entry, but it was exciting to verify several 90 plus entries and 2 growers who had 99 bushels per acre.

I believe ISA has been very successful in getting more Illinois growers to be more serious about increasing soybean yields. A lot of the successes have come from attention to detail, paying more attention to plant health and taking a systems approach. Planting earlier, lowering populations, narrowing up rows, adding complete seed treatments, variety selection and placement, foliar fungicide, reducing compaction, building soil fertility, foliar nutrition and biologicals have all played a part in obtaining yield successes.

Our Illinois 100-bushel soybean growers have led the way in raising the bar. They have shown that it is not just “throwing the kitchen sink” at the high yield field … it’s more about attention to detail and management. Dr. Dan Davidson, Jim Nelson and Mike Scheer have been the leaders of the Yield Challenge program. Working with them has been a pleasure as well as all the excellent soybean growers I’ve had the good fortune to work with.

I am looking forward to the next round of yields that come in this fall and I may be lucky enough to witness a 100-bushel achievement or even set a new official record in Illinois.

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About the Author: Gary Baumhardt