Fighting for Every Soybean Bushel

November 5, 2016 02:56 AM

Consummate cornerman slams 100-plus bushels five times

When a producer laces the gloves and climbs in the ring for soybean combat, a capable cornerman is vital. With yields consistently bouncing higher than 100 bu. per acre five times in four consecutive years, crop consultant Robb Dedman is among the best cornermen in the business.

On a chase for yield, he’s an ever-present shadow in the fields of southeast Arkansas, walking rows from dawn to dusk. Dedman picks and needles, studying disease opponents, noting new varieties and minding soil fertility by peeling layers to the bone with incessant questions over costs and performance. As 100 bu. per acre fades in his rearview mirror, he eyes far greater yield prizes. 

Dedman pushes a platform centered on solid agronomy, precise timing and critical adjustment to weather. All crops on farmer-client Matt Miles’ ground start at harvest of the prior year with soil and nematode sampling, fertilizer placement and fieldwork. Winter brings a mix of management decisions on how to feed a crop. The layers of planning and preparation are aimed at one central question: What is the right seed on the right acre? 

Poring over yield trial data from private sector, University of Arkansas and on-farm strip trials, Dedman lets the numbers speak. Miles and Dedman keep an open-door policy on varieties, welcoming new seed into the mix. “If a seed company approaches us, we offer a strip trial right away,” Miles says. “If they say no, then they can’t be confident in their variety and neither are we.”

In a high stakes game of mix and match, strip trials measure distinct yield differences on three and four locations across the operation for the same variety. Each season, Dedman typically watches 120 varieties, ranking them for yield, disease package, lodging, height, nodes and more. 

“I plead with farmers,” Dedman says. “Do research on your own soil because every farm has special fits.”

Optimal weather can hide a genetically weak variety during a single season trial. Dedman gathers test variety data for three to four years to avoid the fallacy of a one-hit wonder.  If a particular seed does well, he might recommend it for 200 acres one season, 400 acres the next and on up the ladder. Small steps prevent big losses. 

“Cutting corners on seed is a big mistake,” Dedman warns. “Choose a cheaper seed variety and you can save yourself into bankruptcy.”

Dedman loves the challenge of yield contests, such as Arkansas Soybean Association’s Grow for the Green, and says critics miss the point of pushing yields. “If we find one technique or product that boosts yield by 5 bu., the result is a win for everyone,” he says.

From 2013 through 2016, Dedman eclipsed 100 bu. five times, with five different varieties: Asgrow 4632, 107.63 bu.; Pioneer 45T11, 100.61 bu.; Pioneer 47T36, 108.72 bu.; Pioneer 48T53R, 106.50 bu.; and Syngenta 47K5, 100.99 bu. His overall farm average approaches 90 bu. per acre.

Going against the grain, Dedman insists on inoculation every year. In 2016, he’s used Genesis Ag seed treatments and in-furrow fertilizer. He says the soybeans jumped up early and strong. “Seed treatments are expensive, but you know what’s more expensive? Replanting or losing a crop,” he says.

Timing isn’t everything, but it’s close, Dedman adds. Planting, weeds, irrigation and nutrient applications all revolve around precise timing. Many operations suffer from personnel disfunction and a lack of teamwork, an ill recipe that wreaks havoc on timing. 

Dedman is no magician, just a man who sticks to farming simplicity. “The crop is your child and you better act like it,” he says. 

It’s agronomy 101: Plants are made to feed through roots and leaves are made to produce carbohydrates through photosynthesis. Dedman follows the logic to spoon-feed soybeans beyond early application. Soybeans consume large quantities of potash, and farmers sometimes neglect the nutrient later in the season. Essentially, a skinny man eats less than a fat man. 

“You want big yields? Then you want big weight. Crops don’t eat everything at once, and you’ve got to know your timing,” he says.

Dedman uses FieldX for data management and AgPixel for aerial mapping, along with a host of apps. Facebook and Twitter helps him stay ahead of insect and disease pressure.

When harvest dust settles, Dedman and Miles retreat to the farm office to sort through the data. They spend the next several weeks at a 60"-wide screen displaying soil samples and yield data. By Jan. 1, they have a strong framework for the crop mix and management plans. 

Miles regards Dedman as a partner, and the duo never stops planning. Several years back, Miles put in an irrigation well for a single nine-acre block around his grain bins—an unheard of extra. Next, they’re looking to do innovative research on chemigation and fertigation. 

“If we put up a lateral pivot or drip, everybody in the county will think we’re nuts,” Dedman says. “Maybe chemigation or fertigation won’t work, but we want to find out for ourselves instead of talking about it.”

With consistent success in the yield ring, Dedman continues to look for the next key to unlock more of soybean’s yield code.

Push Soybean Yields Higher

As ag’s version of a chess player, crop consultant Robb Dedman is consumed with the overall board while calculating the potential movement of each piece. He shares these tips to soybean yield success: 

1. Don’t waste the off-season. Use the time to search for the next useful product or technology and analyze soil samples and yield data. 

2. Plant strip trials of new varieties on your own soil. If one does well after three or four years, double the acres the next year and so on. 

3. Inoculation is worth the money.

4. Spoon-feed soybeans all season long and don’t forget the potash.

5. Get out in the rows to scout and collect data. Use apps and social media to help make decisions. At 6 a.m. nearly every day of the growing season, Dedman is heading down a row, almost desperate to begin scouting: “Dawn in a farm field is where you want to be. A feeling wraps around you and if you’re not happy, you can’t be made happy,” he says. “I’m blessed to work with an incredible team and we give God the ultimate credit for everything we do, period.” 


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