VILLA GROVE, Ill. (DTN) -- Travis Albin's enthusiasm for pushing soybean yields seems to mirror the bounding golden retriever named Harley that seldom leaves his side.
The Villa Grove, Illinois, young farmer spent a good share of his summer with his nose in the rows of his soybean test plots, sniffing for any hint of what inputs and production practices might treat him to more overall yield.
Travis came back to farm with his father, Bob, about the time commodity prices started to falter. He figured the way to respond was to put more bushels in the tank and to learn which inputs pay out.
As a teaching tool, he signed up for the Illinois Soybean Association (ISA) Yield Challenge this summer, an association-led effort aimed at boundary-pushing growing practices. Mike Scheer, the coordinator of the Illinois program, said the state contest draws about 150 entries each year.
The American Soybean Association (ASA) has hinted a national contest might be in the works, but officials told DTN that is on hold for now. Approximately 18 states have some type of yield contest for soybeans, and Scheer said they all differ slightly. In Illinois, participants are offered a yield contest divided into crop districts. Those meeting or exceeding a 100-bushel yield challenge are recognized and an overall yield winner crowned. A separate side-by-side competition offers an award for the largest percentage yield increase between plots of traditional practices and high-input practices, and there's also a double-crop yield competition (soy yield only). Independent yield verification is required for all award winners.
Albin got to pick his own coaches and agronomic consultants. The high-yield effort really started in the fall of 2016 with an application of 200 lb. of potash. "I basically fertilized for a 110-bushel soybean yield on my plot ground," said Albin. "Go big or go home, but I figured I had some catching up to do."
He held out for good seedbed conditions and ground temps of 55 degrees Fahrenheit for three 24-hour consecutive periods before planting. It was the first time he's planted beans in April and the first time the soybean planter led the corn planter on the farm.
To offset early planting, Albin planted a bit deeper at 1.25 inches and applied 75 lbs. of additional down pressure to get good seed-to-soil contact. Finding the correct down-pressure balance can be tricky, but as important for soybeans as corn, he said.
A big rain right after planting followed by cool conditions caused some crusting. It took 18 days for the crop to emerge. Still, the variety he used, Syngenta S39-C4, with a 3.9 maturity rating, had a 130,000 final stand count (145,000 ppa planted).
His high-yield plot got the works: a full seed-treatment package, overlapping residual herbicides preemergence and 30 days after planting, two fungicide applications, five micronutrient applications and four insecticide applications.
He's already decided sidedressed nitrogen didn't pay. He injected 3 gallons of 32% (15 lbs. of N) at the R1 growth stage. "The nodes of plants that did not receive nitrogen were about 3/4 inch apart, and those sidedressed had nodes spaced 2 to 3 inches apart and no extra pods," he noted.
At the beginning of the season, Albin figured he'd need 85-bushel beans to break even based on $10-per-bushel prices under a high-input regime, and that's exactly where his high-yield plot landed. It was the best year ever for soybeans on the farm, but the intensively managed plots still outdid traditional management in side-by-side comparisons by 14 bpa.
"I'm learning there's a lot more yield potential in soybeans. I'm determined to unlock it," he says.
For more information on Illinois Yield Challenge go to: http://www.ilsoy.org/…
Pamela Smith can be reached at Pamela.email@example.com
Follow her on Twitter @PamSmithDTN
Copyright 2017 DTN/The Progressive Farmer. All rights reserved.