Spring Into Action

Indiana farm develops plan to create consistency and boost 2019 soybean yields.

BASF Innovation Specialist Melanie Burk recommends that Mike Lawyer and the Robinson brothers, Ryan and Nick, test several production practices to boost 2019 soybean yields, Image by Dave Charrlin

Innovations in the Field is brought to you by BASF.

Ryan Robinson needs a good spring, because he and family-owned B&M Farms didn’t get the usual field work done last fall. It was such a tough fall that as of mid-January 2019, you could still see unharvested corn and soybean fields in their neighborhood.

B&M got all their crops out, but not without rutting some cornfields. The family typically fall chisels all soybean ground going into corn, and fall sprays corn acres that’ll be seeded to soybeans. Corn stubble is also vertically tilled. None of that happened last fall, which means the family is starting from behind this spring.

They hope a favorable weather window opens early this year, when they can spray corn stubble going to soybeans; otherwise, that herbicide application will have to be done later. “We’ve also got to level ruts and then get fields chiseled,” says Ryan. “We hope we have a spring like 2018 so we can get fields planted on a timely basis.”

Except for the wet fall harvest weather, 2018 was one of the best growing seasons ever for B&M’s Pendleton, Indiana, farm operation. The growing season helped the farm produce its best-ever average corn yield. Corn yields on many area farms averaged more than 200 bushels per acre.

Soybean Challenge.

As for soybeans, they were acceptable, but “we were a bit disappointed,” says Mike Lawyer. Lawyer owns B&M and is an uncle to brothers Ryan and Nick Robinson.

Year-to-year soybean yield fluctuation is irritating for Lawyer. “In corn, we’ve got a baseline program that consistently produces good yields,” he notes. “Soybeans, on the other hand, have been a real challenge for us to find a baseline, a program that generates consistently good yields.”

In 2018, what looked like a very good soybean crop had late infestations of stink bug and frogeye leaf spot that took 10 or so bushels per acre off the final yield in several untreated fields. Working with Melanie Burk, the farm’s BASF Innovation Specialist, the family is looking at testing several production practices to boost soybean yields. Those include:

> Applying sulfur: “We plan to apply sulfur on half our 2019 soybean acres,” says Lawyer. “We’ll use AMS (ammonium sulfate) as it’s a little more economical for us than a liquid program,” he explains. The family ran a strip trial with AMS in 2018 and saw enough good results to convince them it was a good idea to expand sulfur application acreage in 2019.

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> Planting earlier: Planting early may be a stretch this spring with the added field work to make up for last fall. However, weather permitting, the family is looking at planting at least some soybeans in early to mid-April, a good 10 days to two weeks earlier than normal. “Moving the planting date up extends the flowering window and potentially produces a crop that matures before late-season disease and insect pressure,” notes Burk. Lawyer recalls that early mid-group soybeans were their best yielding soybeans the past three years. “This past year,” he adds, “yields on any soybeans planted after May 15 started falling off.” Lawyer also likes the fact that early beans can be harvested earlier spreading out the fall harvest workload.

> Lower seeding rate: The family is also looking at lowering their soybean seeding rate from the 150,000 they’ve been using. “Reducing seeding rate is one thing we can do to lower seed cost,” notes Lawyer. BASF’s Burk recommends they run trials seeding at 110,000, 130,000 and 150,000 seeds per acre and compare. She also recommends testing different rates with
both later-planted and early beans.

> New fungicide: The family is already a big believer in making corn and soybean fungicide applications. In 2018, they applied Headline AMP® on corn and Priaxor® on soybeans, with good results. The Priaxor application was made in late July when beans were at R2 to R3 stages.

The benefit of applying fungicides in soybeans in 2018 was especially evident in a fungicide test plot with untreated strips. Both Priaxor and another fungicide were applied to the treated strips. “The results were so obvious I could see the difference between the fungicide-treated and the untreated strips out of the side of my eye driving down the road at 50 miles an hour,” notes Ryan Robinson. A late-season infestation of frogeye leaf spot was the main yield-robbing culprit. The untreated soybeans yielded almost 10 bushels per acre less than soybeans treated with a fungicide.

In anticipation of BASF’s new fungicide being approved by the EPA this year, Burk hopes to provide the family with the fungicide for a 2019 trial.

> Vary seed treatment: The family started treating their own soybean seed in 2018. This enabled them to change seed treatment for different planting conditions as seed was sent to the field for planting. The family is looking at possibly setting up trials to compare seed treatments. “We might test the seed treatment ILeVO® to control sudden death syndrome (SDS) and nematodes on some seed,” says Lawyer. Burk recommends targeting ILeVO on soybean varieties susceptible to SDS and in fields where nematode pressure is high.

Treating their soybean seed gives the family several advantages besides being able to tailor seed treatment to conditions. One is economic. Over time they expect to see significant savings over buying treated seed, considering the amount of soybean seed they plant.

The other is having fresh seed treatment. “Many seed treatments decline in effectiveness over time,” notes Burk. Treated soybeans delivered in February and not planted until May can be more than three months old before being put in the ground. With their own seed treater, Ryan Robinson treats seed right before it’s taken to the field.

The family plants only Liberty®-resistant soybeans. Weed control has not been a problem for them, although as with most growers in the area they have increased their use of residual herbicides to better control waterhemp and other weeds until canopy.

Corn Program That Works.

The family isn’t planning major changes to their 2019 corn production plan if weather cooperates. They’re on a 50-50 corn-soybean crop rotation.

They apply about 200 pounds per acre of nitrogen in a two-pass program using liquid 28. The first pass puts on 11 gallons of liquid 28 with 2 percent sulfur with the planter. They then come back and apply the bulk of the nitrogen, also liquid 28, when corn is 4 to 6 inches tall. “Our soils respond well to this program,” says Lawyer. “We get good early emergence and plant health, and the crop has all the nitrogen it needs for later in the season.”

Lawyer calls in a helicopter to spray a tank mix of Headline AMP fungicide and an insecticide on corn around tasseling. “We’ve been doing aerial application on corn for about five years,” says Lawyer. “The at-tassel time fungicide application was perfect timing in 2018,” notes Burk. “It protected the crop from the northern corn leaf blight and gray leaf spot that showed up in the area. However, the biggest benefit from the application last year was plant health,” says Burk. “It kept the plant healthy and let it thrive in the reproductive stages.”

Equipment and technology-wise, the rutted fields from last fall have Nick Robinson lobbying the family to buy a tracked grain cart. Nick has a vested interest as he’s the tillage guy in the operation--the one responsible for rehabbing compaction problems.

Farm Succession

A top priority for Mike Lawyer this year is developing a farm succession plan. He and his wife, Lynne, don’t have children. Most of the outside work on the farm is handled by Lawyer, an employee Karl Moore, and Lawyer’s nephews Ryan and Nick Robinson. Both nephews would like very much to take over the farm together one day, and Mike is looking toward the time when he can slow down.

“Our goal,” says Mike, who’s in his 60s, “is to set it up so Ryan and Nick can take the operation over at some point.” One advantage Mike has is his wife is an attorney who specializes in helping farmers with transition. She also oversees the operations financial accounting. With her expertise, the business has already been structured to ease transition. But more details await attention.

Ryan’s and Nick’s mother (and Mike’s sister), Brenda Robinson, is also very involved in the operation, overseeing recordkeeping to include tracking grain in storage, grain sales, seed, chemicals and insurance.

Ryan Robinson joined the farm operation in 2005 out of high school. An outdoors guy, he runs the combine and does the spraying.

Nick Robinson joined in 2008 after studying mechanics at a community college. He’s the lead on tillage and does the spray mixing.

To learn more about the innovative practices these farmers use, check out their details on www.dtn.com/innovations.

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