Soybeans yields are steadily improving in Illinois and we can thank continued improvements in both genetics and management for these gains.

Seed companies continue to push the genetic barriers and farmers and companies continue to innovate technologies and practices. Fred Below, Ph.D., University of Illinois, has identified his Six Secrets that lead to soybean success:

  1. Weather: The number one influence on soybean yields, but beyond our control.
  2. Fertility: Proactive fertilization can boost yields over the 60-bushel mark.
  3. Foliar protection: Fungicides and insecticides protect foliage and prevent yield loss.
  4. Genetics: The fullest maturities for the region produce the greatest yield increases.
  5. Row spacing: Narrower, 15- or 20-inch rows increase yield and respond better to more intense management.
  6. Seed treatment: Early season protection protects yield potential.

Choosing improved varieties and correctly placing them in the right fields and on the right soil type is a given. Work closely with your seed adviser and don’t hesitate to cross brands if you can improve yield, so do your homework. The best practices available today include planting early, planting in narrow rows, selecting the right seed treatment combinations, protecting foliage, fertilizing soybeans separately from corn and ensuring the crop has enough phosphorus and potassium available.

There are still uncertainties in adopting foliar feeding, growth stimulants, and plant and soil biologicals. They all work some of the time, but results are somewhat inconsistent and hard to predict when they are most needed. In many cases, growers apply them to remove limiting factors or in the hope they will generate a positive response. Personally, I believe they have a place in a management program, but we need a better understanding of when to use them and a method of measuring response.

Today many presentations, conferences, media articles and extension activities review these practices and share research results and grower experiences. And in soybeans we know improving yield calls for adopting a systems approach, which requires assembling many of the practices referenced above.

Growers are beginning to adopt many of these best practices and being rewarded with higher yields and greater profit. But the questions in my mind are where do we go from here or how do we move to the next yield level? I see several possible avenues:

  • Continued genetic improvement
  • Removing nature’s yield barriers (weather, pests, diseases)
  • Fine-tuning the system available today
  • Making better use of foliar feeding and plant stimulants
  • Understanding the role that soil health plays in sustaining yield
  • Learning how and when to apply supplemental nitrogen
  • Development of novel new practices that take us in new directions

Over the course of the winter we will be exploring each of these possibilities in more detail to see what’s coming and what we need to be prepared to do.

Soybean agronomist Daniel Davidson, Ph.D. posts blogs on agronomy-related topics. Feel free to contact him at or ring him at 402-649-5919.

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About the Author: Dan Davidson

Soybean agronomist Daniel Davidson, Ph.D., posts blogs on topics related to soybean agronomy. Feel free to contact him at or ring him at 402-649-5919.