Missouri farmer Kip Cullers reveals 15 keys to growing high-yielding beans.
When fellow farmers ask Kip Cullers how he set the world record for soybean yield at 160.6 bu./acre, he tells them it was simple: You just need to remove stress.
It can’t be that simple, though, or the typical yield for a soybean harvest, about 40 bu./acre, wouldn’t be at one quarter of Cullers’ mark. The key, Cullers told a Soybean College audience in Coldwater, Mich., is to focus on what you can control.
"You can control nutrients, insects, and disease," he says. "And you can have some control over water, and sunlight and CO2 through plant density."
During his presentations, Cullers, who farms 13,000 acres in southwest Missouri, continually reminds farmers that what works for him may not work in northern Michigan. Everyone, he says, needs to understand their growing conditions and farm accordingly.
Cullers revealed the following secrets to successful farming:
Don’t fear failure. Instead, remain flexible and respond to current conditions. You can’t afford to farm the same way for 10 years and expect to get the same results each year. You need to experiment even if it doesn’t work. "Everything I’ve learned, I’ve learned from my failures, not my successes."
Remove stress from the plant’s environment. That means spraying insecticide more often than not. "I wouldn’t want 200 aphids sucking on me. I imagine plants don’t either."
Stick to fundamentals. "There are some things we always do, because they make good sense. We always have a good treatment program. We use an insecticide. We don’t let weeds get out of control. And we apply a fungicide."
Use fungicides. Cullers sprays his soybean plans with fungicide twice, because he’s growing them in the Southern region of the country. In Northern regions, you may only need to apply them once. "If you put fungicides out there, nine out of 10 times it increases your yield."
Grow very dark-green plants. Photosynthesis is one of those things you can control, through the addition of iron and magnesium. The darker the plant, the more seeds it’s likely to grow.
Vary your routine. You can’t plant the same variety year after year and get the same results. You need to change the seeds you plant every 2 or 3 years.
Don’t tolerate weeds. "They need to go. One fully grown weed has enough seed to pollinate three acres…. You let weeds get 2" high, you can lose 10% of your yield."
Grow healthy stalks. Cullers regularly produces plants with stalks the size of a half dollar. When he tells that to farmer, "the first question they ask me is how I combine them, not how I grow them. That’s silly. We don’t mind going slower if it means producing higher yields."
Don’t starve yourself into prosperity. "You’ve got to have the right amount of nutrients."
Determine the biggest threats to your crop. Cullers may have to deal with white mold and the height of plants (which prevents sunlight from getting to the lower region of the plant) in Southern Missouri. But they may not be the biggest threats to crops in other regions.
Remove as many variables as possible. Cullers recommends against planting with drills. Because of their fluted ends, you can’t control the depth or the spacing of planting. "Drills are nothing more than a controlled spill. You need to plant soybeans the same way you plant corn."
Get to the root of the problem. He uses seed treatment to get roots healthy and growing. The stronger the root network, the more nutrients reach the plant.
Manage for uniform soil density. In that way, deep roots can get the biggest supply of water. "We’re 85% no till, and the only tillage we do is self-inflicted, when we combine when it’s too wet.
Reconsider row spacing. Cullers plants his soybeans in twin rows on 30-inch spacing. That way sunlight reaches low and he can get higher crop density per acre.
Don’t stay put. "I love making things grow. I love a new challenge. I’m always trying something new."
Farm Journal Media's Pam Fretwell visits with Cullers at the 2012 Soybean College:
Thank you to the 2012 Soybean College sponsors:
BASF, Great Plains, MANA, Novazymes, SFP, USB