Bin-Busting Beans

December 8, 2010 07:32 AM

Been there, done that…Kip Cullers, perennial soybean yield champion, has once again pushed the envelope by hauling in a 160.6 bu. per acre yield. He was expecting an even higher number, though.

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Kip Cullers searched for ways to reduce plant height and control white mold. He credits the new practices with the additional branching and pod set he saw this year.

“I really thought we had 170 bu. to 180 bu. potential this year,” says the Purdy, Mo., grower, who honed his intensive yield management skills by growing vegetable crops.

Cullers, who previously held the top soybean yield title with a 154.57 bu. per acre yield from the 2007 growing season, is convinced soybean yields can be pushed beyond 200 bu. 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 production inputs.

Farmers who have trekked to Cullers’ farm to learn his secrets are often amazed at the tangle of lush plant growth. During the past few years, the yield king has been re-evaluating soybean density and looking for ways to control lodging and the diseases that can flourish in heavy canopy situations.


Set goals. “I had two goals for the crop this year: control plant height and white mold,” Cullers says. Brazilian farmers face the same problems, so Cullers headed south of the border to see what he could learn. Modern chemistry offered some solutions.

Cullers experimented in 2010 with products that regulate plant height and defoliate the crop before harvest.

The bin-busting 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 farm to see what they will yield. The 160.6-bu. yield was realized in a 40-acre field that contained four different varieties.

Cullers says no bean hits dirt on his farm 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 belowground is more important than what you apply later. Those roots have to be really growing and developing to achieve yield,” he says.

This year, he also used Bio-Forge seed treatment, an antioxidant that purges plant cells of excess ethylene.

He also experimented with the product Contans WG to control white mold. This biological control product contains the fungus Coniothyrium minitans, a parasite of white mold fungus’s sclerotia. It is typically applied to the soil in the fall after harvest or in the spring prior to planting.

Special measures. Get ready to cringe because Cullers sprayed this plot at the second trifoliate with a full rate of Cobra herbicide heated up with crop oil and 32% liquid nitrogen. “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 a good early residual weed control program because it opens up the canopy. Cullers thinks the Cobra application will allow him to back off on soybean seed populations in the future.

Applications of Headline fungicide at R3 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 used to battle a severe Japanese beetle invasion. He added Steward to clean up worm problems.

Cullers likes to experiment and often doesn’t reveal all of his secret ingredients. Some are as simple as using vinegar to control plant height.

He’s re-evaluating irrigation practices for next year. “Even with the shortened height, we’re still pushing frequent waterings,” Cullers adds.

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