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Missouri farmer takes 'High Yield' to a whole new level

Agriculture.com Staff 11/17/2006 @ 9:15am

Kip Cullers takes the phrase "High Yield Team" to a whole new level.

Cullers is the southwest Missouri farmer who gained instant celebrity status this week when it was announced that he had set a new world record for soybean yield at 139 bushels an acre. He joined the Successful Farming and Agriculture Online High Yield Team program for soybean farmers last spring, and then followed the program's stories and email updates through the growing season. The High Yield Team goal was to help growers bring soybeans back to a level of competitiveness with corn.

To say that Cullers succeeded would be quite an understatement.

The Missouri Soybean Association had representatives on hand at harvest to certify the record yield.

Yes, Cullers told us over his cell phone, he joined the High Yield Team (co-sponsored by Syngenta's AgriEdge program), read all of our stories, and liked the program. But the fact is, getting soybeans to yield over 100 bushels an acre takes a level of management that goes way beyond what most farmers can and will do.

Cullers planted the 40-acre field on May 20, and harvested it on October 7. He drilled about 300,000 seeds per acre, and had a harvest population of 245,000 plants. The Pioneer seed was a late group 4 maturity.

One of the things Cullers credits for his super yields may sound backwards to other soybean farmers: Plant big seeds. "A lot of farmers plant small seeds [because there are more of them in a bag,]" he says. "But I believe that small seeds produce small soybeans, and big seeds yield big soybeans. These soybeans that I grew were really big, and that added to yield. The stalks on these plants were big, too, as big as your thumb." The protein content of the beans was also very good at 41%.

Despite that size of stalk and volume of beans, Cullers says they went through his rotary combine easily. The plants were straight and untangled at harvest. They were drilled with a JD drill, but Cullers isn't necessarily sold on drilling as the preferred system for planting soybeans. Next year his plan is to plant twin-row beans. The twin rows will be 7.5 inches apart, and those double rows will be on 30-inch centers. He thinks he'll get better precision control of seed placement compared to the drill. "I'm just going to try it, and see what I can learn," he says. "If I learn something on these test fields, then I apply it to my regular fields."

Cullers' main farming enterprise is growing vegetable crops, including green beans. He applied some of his management practices from green beans to his record-setting soybeans. For instance, he irrigates, and in the heat of summer he puts two or three tenths of an inch of water on beans every day (or sometimes twice that much water every other day). "You have to cool bean plants down during the heat of the day, or else they will abort blooms and pods," he says. From about the Fourth of July on, his soybeans were getting that sprinkling of water every day or every other day. "If the sun is out in the summer, we're going to be over 90 degrees here," he says. "So we're irrigating every day in July, August, and most of September."

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