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Dream team beans

A personal challenge is just that: personal. There's no one looking over the fence and over your shoulder if you try something different on your land. There are no test plot signs along the road.

A personal challenge is what more than 1,100 farmers are taking this year in the High Yield Team project.

In the program, soybean farmers are invited to join the High Yield Team and challenge themselves to boost yields in problem fields. The idea was hatched from the fact that many growers have seen yields of the "miracle crop" hit a plateau - or decline - in recent years for a variety of reasons, including pests, disease, and adverse weather.

Ohio grower Tom Culp devised a plan to boost soybean yields based on test plot and field performance records.

Growers participating in the High Yield Team project have enrolled more than 100,000 acres in the program. Historical yields on these fields are 47 bushels per acre on average. The personal goal of the growers is to raise yields by about 30% - to 61 bushels an acre on average.

For their participation, High Yield Team members will receive special reports from an expert panel, an e-mail newsletter, as well as other benefits.

Variety selection is one area where team members are seeking improvement. "The major change for beans this year is selection of varieties that yield well in our microclimate and management based on our own test plot and field performance in the past two years," says Tom Culp, Lexington, Ohio. "Granted, this runs against the rule to select from varieties that do well across a wide area, but those varieties don't always work for us."

His personal challenge is to boost yields to 75 bushels per acre on a 30-acre field averaging 31.4 bushels.

Culp already has an intensive soybean production system in place on his farm. That system includes an optimal fertility program, early preplant residual chemicals, seed-applied fungicides on early planted varieties, inoculation, and crop scouting and treatment as needed.

Other growers on the High Yield Team also are giving special attention to variety selection for several reasons.

Wallace Green, New Boston, Illinois, says, "We have spent quite a bit of time studying varieties, and we are being very selective in our selection of varieties, two of which we'll plant in the selected field. SDS (sudden death syndrome) has been a problem in this field."

High Yield Team expert panel members agree that variety selection is a major issue in breaking through soybean yield barriers.

Variety selection can make a major difference whether you harvest 45- or 60-bushel-an-acre beans, says Palle Pedersen, Iowa State University Extension agronomist. In Iowa, soybean cyst nematode (SCN) is a major pest that can slice up to 30% off soybean yields. The good news is farmers can protect yields by selecting top-notch resistant varieties for SCN-infested fields.

Northern growers had excellent results with late-maturing varieties in 2005 due to great growing conditions, says Mark Bernard, a New Richland, Minnesota, crop consultant.

"Because it's tempting to select varieties based on last year's performance, there likely will be an increase in later-maturing varieties in the region this year," he says. "Yet, Northern soybean producers should still strive to plant a mix of varieties with varying maturities. We never know when we'll see a September 14 or earlier killing frost."

Variety selection is increasingly complex for growers and seed companies, says John Thorne, retired plant breeder for Syngenta. "New varieties are coming much faster and in much larger numbers every year," he says. "Thirty years ago, a good new variety might last five to 10 years."

Growers have many more choices for important characteristics, including disease, insect, and nematode differences; protein and oil quantity and quality; herbicide tolerance; and adaptability to soil type and cultural practices, Thorne says.

Beyond variety selection, growers on the High Yield Team, like Loren Manthey, Northfield, Minnesota, are trying a mix of practices to boost yields. Manthey has earmarked a 64-acre field for a yield boost in the range of 15 bushels per acre on a field that has been going about 55 bushels per acre.

"Two of the biggest issues in this particular field have been drainage and unbalanced nutrient levels," says Manthey. "In the last two years I have pattern-tiled the field, so drainage is not an issue anymore. I had a soil-testing firm EC map the farm and also run zone soil samples. We applied amendments, gypsum, and lime where needed, and we also broadcast P and K and micronutrients per the zone samples," he says.

The High Yield Team will be challenging themselves and the tools of their trade to boost yield this year. But some issues are beyond your control, Tom Culp points out, like how to deal with drainage issues on rented ground.

And as all farmers know, weather will have the final word. "You pray for sunshine, a rarity here in north-central Ohio, and just the right amount of rain," Culp says.

The High Yield Team, organized by Successful Farming magazine, is sponsored by the AgriEdge Soybean Program from Syngenta.

A personal challenge is just that: personal. There's no one looking over the fence and over your shoulder if you try something different on your land. There are no test plot signs along the road.

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