Why participation in yield contests can be rewarding.

Five years ago, an Illinois Soybean Association Yield Challenge sparked our interest as a retailer.  We were confident our growers could complete, if not win the side-by-side challenge.  This challenge meant the grower would have an untreated check area and compare it to an area of treated products of their choice, with the winner showing the best increase in yield between the two. We had two growers entered and won our district!  It was a great opportunity to show value to growers who use certain products at specific timings. And we showed the return of fungicide and insecticide (F/I) application at R2/3. The grower implemented F/I on almost all their soybean acres the following year.

The next year we entered that same grower in the 100-Bushel Challenge. We had what we thought was a great game plan. It included the highest yielding genetics in the fullest maturity, an inoculant, early planting (which, at the time, very few growers were doing), and a R2/3 F/I application. The entry hit the low 90s and we were happy, and hungry to do better.  That same year Dan Arkels set the Illinois state record at 103 bushels. We were invited to listen to a roundtable discussion hosted by Stoller USA, where we sat in awe at the level of management he had used to get there. We had missed out on the significant benefit of making additional applications. At the same roundtable, I offered my input on early planting and could be gained by doing so.

That winter we sat down and assembled a team of advisors that included the grower, our retail sales agronomists, our supplier’s agronomists and a select group of company sales professionals. In 2015, just one year after their “rookie” season, growers Bob and Jason Lakey not only won the 100-Bushel Challenge, but set a new Illinois state record of 106 bu/a. They would go on to win again in 2016 and 2017, breaking their own 2017 record with 108 bu/a. 

In those four years, I have been blessed with the opportunity to share our successes with other growers and engage in many educational conversations with industry professionals. We have fine-tuned our program and continue to learn. Finding the right timing and products to unlock the yield potential of soybeans has become somewhat addicting. With soybeans leading the profitability on the farm the last 4-5 years, growers are hungry for information to take them to the next yield level.  

As growers, the Lakeys have taken their entire farm average on soybeans to an impressive level.  They have found the products they feel give them consistent returns and have implemented them across the board on every acre, every year.

As a retailer, I have had the opportunity to look at and test numerous products. This allows me a full arsenal of products to help my growers in conditions that present certain challenges each year.  I have also been able to connect with knowledgeable industry professionals to continue to learn and grow.  

And through my social media Facebook page, The Pursuit of 100+ Bushel Soybeans, I have been able to connect with over 13,000 followers and answer as many questions as I can get to. I have received some great messages of success from growers on the east coast, Canadian growers and the far west Corn Belt. It’s very rewarding to be able give back to growers the information that was shared with me.

I strongly encourage growers on the fence about entering a yield contest to do it!  Go into it with an open mind and willingness to learn.  Be hands-on and assemble a team! The team you work with should be there to help you learn and grow. In my opinion, everyone is a winner when you can take away one thing to make your farm more profitable and grow more bushels every year!

Kris Ehler
Ehler is a sales agronomist for Ehler Brothers Co. in Thomasboro, Illinois. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and has been a Certified Crop Adviser for 15 years. Ehler was part of the advisory and agronomy team to help growers Bob and Jason Lakey set the Illinois state soybean record of 108 bu/A in 2015. His social media page, The Pursuit of 100+ Bushel Soybeans, has helped growers confidently implement early planting and management practices to increase yields.



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