DECATUR, Ill. (DTN) -- Remember those days when everyone wanted to know the secret sauce behind soybean yield increases? Jerry Cox does. The Delta, Missouri, farmer has been a perennial yield contest winner in both corn and soybeans.
"Foliar feeding, fungicide and timely insecticides are important ingredients, but it's not as much the recipe as it is timeliness of application and reading the crop," Cox told me recently as we talked by phone while his combine bleeped in the background.
But farmers still ask him for the recipe.
It was recently announced that Georgia soybean grower Randy Dowdy had pushed the yield envelope by growing a 190.23 bushel per acre (bpa) yield. It's impressive and there's a lot to learn by studying the behaviors and practices these high yield growers follow.
However, Cox and the many farmers who reach for higher yields will tell you there's no easy button with soybeans, or any other crop for that matter. You can plant the same populations and use the same treatments as the next farmer, and still get vastly different results.
The first step to sorting through those differences is variety plots with your own management practices, according to agronomist Jason Schley, NextLevel Ag, LLC., Alpena, South Dakota.
Here's some thoughts from Schley on how to improve soybean yields on your own farm.
Q: What is the most important practice by growers pushing for higher yields?
A: Exercise. Consistent to high yielding growers is the willingness to take time to walk fields. The more you learn the more you want to learn. This is also why many of the top minded/top yielding growers have a trusted adviser to kick around ideas and for a second set of eyes.
Q: What's are some key steps you take with a grower interested in better soybean yields?
A: We first accumulate the data they already have from on-farm trials and testing protocols and I sort through what is usable. I also want to make sure the growers are following a protocol when collecting soil and tissue tests, so the information can be used at a high level.
Understanding what a soil can and cannot release to the plant is of major importance when going for yields that often double the county averages. This step may seem simple, but gleaning useful data is something often missed.
An understanding of what nutrients are most important at each stage of the crop's life is also important. More is not always better. A plant can only take up so much at one time. If we overload with a nutrient, it may inhibit another nutrient the plant needs at that stage and yields will suffer.
The tissue test database isn't calibrated to yield all that well -- it's not even close to calibrated to the yields many high-end producers are wanting to raise. Nutrient demand is not the only limiting factor and I like to focus on energy or the lack of it. A lot of the nutrients we apply are there to help promote efficient energy use and that is the ultimate goal.
Q: What are some mistakes growers make in high yield quests?
A: Implementing big changes on a large scale. For example, a grower may fall in love with what a neighbor is doing -- adding biology, hormones and every other kind of input. This approach fails most of the time because every field, every scenario, every weather pattern takes us a different direction. If those changes are made on a large scale the first year and there's no response, most growers quit and say soybean yields are dumb luck or without perfect rains it can't be done.
Instead, if practice A helped, let's add practice B to practice A next year. The plant tells us what we need and every year this needs to be adjusted.
Lower population rates are an example of something gaining a lot of attraction and deservingly so, but not every climate, every soil, or every genetic package allows us to capitalize on the practice.
Walk plots and find someone you can trust within your seed buying experiences to help you sort through the information.
Pamela Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow her on Twitter @PamSmithDTN
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