Only Kip Cullers would complain about a 160.6 bushel per acre soybean yield. “I really thought we had 170 to 180 bushel potential this year,” says the Purdy, Mo., bean yield king.
Cullers, who previously held the top yield title with a 154.57 bushel per acre yield from the 2007 growing season, is convinced soybean yields can be pushed beyond 200 bushel per acre.
How does he do it? Lots of attention to detail combined with highly productive soils, poultry litter, variety selection, crop rotation, micronutrients, vigilant scouting, irrigation and a long list of inputs. Don’t forget the vinegar (more about that later…).
Cullers vibrates with an enthusiasm that approaches hyperactivity and he couldn’t wait to show me the plants from this field when we collided at Farm Progress Show in August. Once I got past the plethora of pods, the next thing that was obvious was the plants were shorter. In years past, a visit to Kip’s soybean fields in early fall would find soybean plants towering or tangled—sometimes both.
“I had two goals for the crop this year—control plant height and white mold,” says Cullers. Brazilian farmers face the same two problems, so Cullers headed south of the border to see what he could learn. Modern chemistry contained the answer. In a system much like cotton growers use, Cullers both regulated plant height and defoliated the crop prior to harvest.
The bin busting yield contest entry was a Pioneer 94Y71 variety that emerged as a potential high yielder from Cullers’ 410-variety on-farm test plot. If there’s a subject he is passionate about it is planting plots on your own farm to see what yields. The 160.6 yield was realized in a 40 acre field that contained four different varieties.
He’s also passionate about certain inputs. No bean hits dirt without Optimize 400, an inoculant that contains specially developed strains of rhizobia bacteria to increase the efficiency of nitrogen fixation and nodulation. “What’s going on below ground is more important than what you apply later. Those roots have to be really growing and developing to achieve yield.” This year, he also used Bio-Forge seed treatment, an anti-oxidant that purges plant cells of excess ethylene.
He also experimented with the product Contans WG to control white mold. This is another biological control product that contains the fungus Coniothyrium minitans, a parasite of the white mold’s fungus’s sclerotia. It is typically applied to the soil in the fall after harvest or in the spring prior to planting.
Get ready to cringe because Cullers sprayed this plot with at the second trifoliate with a full rate of Cobra herbicide heated up with crop oil and 32%. It's important to note here that Cullers has irrigation capabilities.
“For two weeks those beans looked dead from the road and everyone thought I’d lost it. I don’t think many guys are going to be willing to try this,” he admits. “Ultimately, it killed the main growing point and caused the plant to branch into the equivalent of three to four plants.”
The practice also requires that a good early residual weed control program because it opens up the canopy. Cullers says he thinks the Cobra application will allow him to back off on soybean seed populations in the future.
Applications of Headline fungicide at R-3 and again, three weeks later are standard operating procedure for Cullers. “Soybeans shouldn’t die until frost. These beans were totally green from top to bottom until we defoliated them,” he says.
Insect control was also important. Asana XL was his product of choice for a severe Japanese beetle invasion.
Like any good cook, Cullers likes to experiment and often doesn’t reveal all his secret ingredients. Some are as simple as using vinegar to control plant height. Read more about his tactics.