Scoring A Three-Peat

Kentucky soybean yield record holder attributes success

Image by Jim Patrico

Philip Meredith describes himself as “a humble dirt farmer from Western Kentucky.” When it comes to high-yield soybean competition, Meredith is more like a thoroughbred racehorse charging out of the starting gate.

In 2017, Meredith tallied a “three-peat” as the state’s soybean yield champion. The Henderson County farmer scored back-to-back Kentucky soybean yield championships in 2015 and 2016. Last year, Meredith Farms (owned by Philip and Lea Meredith) hauled in a record-breaking yield of 107.76 bushels per acre.

That set a new Kentucky state record and was the first time any soybean grower in the state had produced more than 100 bushels per acre. His 98.34-bushel-per-acre yield in 2015 stood as the previous official soybean yield record for the Bluegrass State. Meredith captured top honors in 2016 with 92.74 bushels per acre and broke the 90-bushel-per-acre mark with 93.5 bushels in 2014.

PIVOT POWER. Meredith rotates soybeans with corn in bottomlands along the juncture of the Green and Ohio rivers. The majority of his soybeans are irrigated under pivot systems.

He attributes the new Kentucky soybean yield record to an excellent growing season. “We had plenty of sunlight, but the temperature wasn’t too hot,” he says. “In 2016, when it wasn’t raining, the sun wasn’t out. You need rain, but you need sunlight also.”

He used some extra potash on the record-breaking acres as he fine-tunes his fertilization program. “You can reach a point when supplying additional potash isn’t cost-effective,” he points out.

Meredith’s soybean program has its roots in the fall, when he chisel-plows corn residue. In the spring, he prepares the ground with a John Deere 726 Mulch Finisher. He plants beans in 15-inch rows with a John Deere 1790 planter. In 2017, he used a planting rate of 150,000 seeds per acre. He plans to lower the seeding rate to 140,000 seeds in 2018 to allow more sunlight into the canopy.

“If conditions were perfect, we could get by with 125,000 seeds per acre, but you never know when a 2-inch rain will lower your emergence,” he says.

Meredith uses an inoculant to establish rhizobia bacteria that ensures nitrogen fixation by soybean plants. Inoculation is a standard recommendation in fields where soybeans have never been grown or haven’t been grown for many years.

But, inoculating soybean seed can also pay off in corn and soybean rotations under certain conditions, explains Wisconsin Extension soybean specialist Shawn Conley. While at Purdue University, Conley worked on a 10-year study of soybean seed inoculation by Indiana farmers. The results were variable (based on soils and weather conditions), but seed inoculation averaged a 1-bushel-per-acre yield advantage. It costs $1.50 to $3 to inoculate 140,000 soybean seeds.

“In some fields, we saw zero yield response; but, in other fields, we saw a 2.5-bushel-per-acre yield response,” Conley says. “Overall, we saw enough yield response so there was a high probability of positive return on investment.”

The Wisconsin soybean specialist points out that seed inoculation usually pays off when soybeans are planted early. He recommends growers initiate a replicated, side-by-side strip trial to test efficacy on their own farms.

EARLY PLANTING, BIG YIELDS. In Meredith’s opinion, an early planting date is a major key in producing high-yield soybeans. His goal is to have a large percentage of his soybeans planted around April 10. In 2017, he had 800 acres planted in early April. He runs two planters planting corn and soybeans at the same time. In 2017, he stopped planting corn to focus on timely planting of soybeans.

“The biggest kicker to high yields is an early planting date. You want your soybeans in the reproductive stage when daylight hours are the longest. June 21 was our longest day last year in western Kentucky,” Meredith says.

Weed resistance has become a serious concern in the Ohio River Valley. Waterhemp is the Henderson County farmer’s biggest weed problem. Meredith has responded by beefing up his herbicide program with products that offer strong residual weed control.

He starts with a preemergence tank mix of Authority and Parallel, followed with a postemergence application of Roundup, Torment and Parallel. The last two products offer strong residual control of tough weeds, including waterhemp.

Farming in a high plant disease environment of river bottoms, Meredith routinely makes one application of Quadris Top SB fungicide tank-mixed with an insecticide. In 2017, he applied Endigo, in 2016, Skyraider.

DESIRE AND DRIVE. Most of the yield champ’s practices are fairly standard for high-yield beans. Irrigation provides Meredith an advantage. But, he also continues experimenting and searching for ways to produce a few more bushels per acre.

“Philip has the personality, desire and drive to go over and above what other producers do to grow high-yield soybeans,” crop consultant Monty Parrish says. “He works hard to try new practices and is willing to invest the money to see if they work.”

Meredith averages about 75 bushels per acre on his 1,400 acres of soybeans. When asked what has helped him boost his top yields from the 80-bushel-per-acre range to nearly 100 bushels, Meredith credits “a higher level of management.” The veteran farmer walks his fields with Henderson County Extension agent Camille Lambert and discusses ideas on how to get more yield.

He uses variable-rate fertilization based on soil test recommendations to provide supplemental K2O (potassium) necessary for super-high-yield beans. Meredith applies 100 extra pounds per acre of K2O on his high-yield soybeans before planting.

Meredith also applies a controlled-release foliar fertilizer he mixes with his fungicide/insecticide application. Meredith applies 1 gallon per acre of CoRoN (25% nitrogen) at the R3 stage. At this rate, he says the application provides 2.7 pounds per acre of nitrogen. It costs approximately $6 per acre.

However, it should be pointed out that university agronomists haven’t found consistent yield response to foliar nitrogen fertilizer in most situations. But, it is not necessarily a wasted effort.

“We haven’t seen consistent yield increases with additional nitrogen on soybeans,” University of Kentucky soybean specialist Chad Lee says. “Our studies on high-yield soybeans often showed that one single practice did little to increase yields. It was a combination of several inputs that gave the largest increases. Additional nitrogen was part of that program. For farmers really focused on yield, these practices are worth investigating.”

Meredith believes his yields can go higher. “We actually lost some yield from sudden death syndrome [in 2017]. This year, we will use a seed treatment to prevent that problem,” he says. “Our goal is to always make better soybean yields.”

Actionable Insights:

Three-peat Practices

Philip Meredith, Henderson, Kentucky, has three basic practices he thinks will pay off in 100-bushel-per-acre soybeans on his western-Kentucky farm:

> Plant early so soybeans are in the reproductive stage when daylight hours are the longest.

> Protect high yields from weeds, diseases and insects.

> Provide adequate fertilizer so plants have the nutrients they need during the growing season.