Build a Better Bean Strategy

(Progressive Farmer image by Pamela Smith)

There is no easy button with soybeans. You can plant the same populations and use the same treatments as the next farmer and get vastly different results. Variety plots with your own management practices are key to sorting out the reasons for those differences, says agronomist Jason Schley, Next Level Ag LLC, Alpena, South Dakota.

Here are some thoughts from Schley on how to improve soybean yields:

Q: What is the most important practice for 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 are some key steps you take with a grower interested in better soybean yields?

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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 examples 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.

Follow the latest from Pamela Smith, Crops Technology Editor, by visiting the Production Blogs at or following her on Twitter: @PamSmithDTN.


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