Use these strategies to build a foundation for maximum yields
With variable weather conditions, input costs and commodity prices, the prospect of producing consistently profitable soybeans year after year may seem daunting. But Jeff Keifer, precision agronomy marketing manager at Elburn Cooperative in Sycamore, Ill., says the soybean farmers who participate in the annual Illinois Soybean Association Yield Challenge are capturing consistently high-yielding, profitable soybean crops.
"My company formed a group with some growers who wanted to focus on high-yielding soybeans," he says. "We’re up to nine or 10 growers right now. In 2008 when we started, our goal as the group was to raise 70 bu. per acre soybeans consistently."
The tactics that Elburn Co-op developed are specific to Northern Illinois. However, the underlying strategies could be used to build the foundation for anyone who is interested in maximizing yields, regardless of geography.
- Select high-yielding soybean varieties. (They prefer Pioneer 92M54, but other options are available.)
- Plant early.
- Maintain good fertility.
- Keep fields weed-free. (They used Valor, Cobra and Roundup, but other options are available.)
- Keep fields disease-free, especially against white mold. (They used Stratego YLD, but other options are available.)
- Keep fields insect-free. (They used Asana, but other options are available.)
- Test additional products that have return-on-investment potential.
- Scout at least two times per week.
Each year, Keifer says they fold in new practices to see if they provide additional value. In 2011, they added foliar micronutrients and nitrogen to see if these inputs would spur additional pod growth. Keifer says participating farmers saw an average 4.6 bu/A increase by adding these inputs.
Keifer is also a big believer in preemerge herbicides.
"What we’ve found is it really doesn’t matter which one you use as long as you’re using one," he says. "When we’ve used a residual herbicide, we’ve never had weeds that were yield-limiting."
The ISA Yield Challenge, which is funded by the Illinois soybean checkoff, encourages soybean farmers to try new yield-enhancing practices and share what they have learned. Elburn Co-op was the Region 2 first-place winner in 2011.