As we all know, the average American Farmer is 57 years old; this means those growers graduated high school in 1976, a very uninhibited time in our history. So to relate to those and younger growers as well I would like to compare modern soybean production to those days of Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll, days I remember well.
First the reproduction side of the equation—All we are doing to maximize yield is simply helping that soybean crop produce more seeds per acre. We have many ways to do that, from picking the correct row spacing and variety for your geography to proper soil fertility and seed bed preparation. We are finding that a good soil fertility program is just as important for a soybean crop as it is for corn. The days of applying phosphorus and potassium for a corn crop and letting the soybeans “scavenge” for nutrients are gone. It is just as important to ensure available nutrients for the beans with the genetics available today. Work is being done looking at nitrogen and how to supplement the N produced by the plant itself through nodulation to maximize profitable yield. Through tissue testing, we are also recognizing the need for micro nutrient applications of manganese, copper, iron and boron.
On the “Drug” topic, today we have more stress mitigation aids than ever before. The profitability potential of the last eight years has driven many suppliers and growers to look for ways to improve yields by reducing stress in the soybean plant at key times during the growing season. From traditional weed, insect and disease stress to environment and nutrient stress, we are attempting to make that plant think it is happy and healthy. A healthy plant will have a better chance of reaching full yield potential than one that is under one stress or another several times during the growing season. We have many more foliar-applied nutrient products now than ten years ago. While these will never replace good soil fertility, they have a place in reducing plant deficiency and remediating stress in the crop. There are also a host of new biological and stimulant products that will help maintain bloom and pod retention during stressful periods late in the growing season. If we save one or two 3-bean pods per plant, look at the yield we are creating on that acre.
Finally, Rock and Roll. I am reminded of that BTO song, “Takin’ Care of Business.” In order to make all these things happen in the soybean crop we have to “take care of business every day.” This doesn’t mean plant the crop, keep it weed free and harvest in October. It means from day of planting until that crop is ready to mature and dry down you monitor it for stress and deficiencies or other issues limiting yield. We have to be prepared to make an application of some product—herbicide, insecticide, fungicide, nutrient or biological—to mitigate the stress that plant is experiencing. Remember, you are nurturing the crop along from Memorial Day through Labor Day. That isn’t easy, but if you are going to hit that magical 100 bpa yield these are the steps to take to make it happen.