As the 2016 crop season ends, now is the time to look back and note what worked and what didn’t. I have spoken with farmers throughout southern Illinois who achieved some of the best whole farm soybean yield averages they’ve ever seen.
But even though there were record yields, I’ve received calls from farmers who know there is still room for improvement. Whether it’s because the new soybean yield record was set at 171 bu/acre this year, or that soybean yields have just been good, as an agronomist it’s exciting to see farmers already looking forward to taking soybean yields even higher.
So how do we use knowledge from this year to improve yields next year? Beck’s Practical Farm Research (PFR)® program conducts farmer-focused agronomic research at multiple locations, including two in Illinois. Just this year, more than 100 studies were conducted at six locations across five states. After harvest, the information is shared through our annual PFR book that is available to anyone. The best part about the PFR book is that every study shows if a product or practice resulted in a return on investment (ROI). Because when it comes right down to it that’s all that matters, because no one wants to lose money farming.
For example, we tested a biological growth stimulant called Toggle™ at all six PFR locations, applied to soybeans at the R3 growth stage. The addition of Toggle provided a modest yield increase of 1.8 bu/acre, but more importantly, it corresponded to a $4.56/acre return on investment. Although not huge, it was still a positive return.
What about adding nitrogen (N) to soybeans? This is a practice that has garnered a lot of discussion over the past few years. We all know that soybeans fix their own N, so is it necessary to add a supplemental application of N? Over the last three years we’ve found that adding 30 lbs. of N preplant has provided a ROI of $19.76/acre. That’s real money, especially in these times of lower commodity prices. Do I recommend that every farmer start applying N to their soybeans? Not necessarily. I recommend that farmers take a look at the information in the PFR book and give it a try on their farm to see if the practice will work for them.
Sometimes it’s nice to test practices that are already commonplace and see if there are small tweaks that make that practice better. In a recent blog on the Illinois Soy Advisor website I saw an article about soybean planting depth. As in that blog, Beck’s PFR data suggest that there is a 2.8 bu/acre yield increase by planting soybeans at 1.5 inches instead of the traditional depth of 1 inch. In fact, our research showed that yield was lost at any depth other than 1.5 inches.
The most important practice that we can’t always control is planting date. Although 2016 was bit of an exception, over the past five years we have seen a $146.49/acre advantage when soybeans are planted from mid-April through mid-May versus mid-May and beyond.
Every farmer has their own yield goals and no one practice or product will likely ever be responsible for achieving that goal. However, having conversations with other farmers and agronomy professionals—and using tools such as Beck’s PFR book and ILSOYADVISOR.com—can help narrow down the options.
Sean Nettleton is a field agronomist for Beck’s Hybrids in Southern Illinois.