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Rainy day gives High Yield Team farmers chance to reflect on the soybean crop

Agriculture.com Staff 10/20/2006 @ 1:10pm

Rain in the midst of harvest season is not necessarily a bad thing.

It gives farmers time to catch their breath as they work on the combine, deliver grain, do paperwork or even run an election campaign.

We visited several farmers in this middle week in October who are part of our High Yield Team of soybean growers. All still have crops in the field, and were finding other things to do as they waited for sunshine. (The HYT program, sponsored by Successful Farming and Syngenta's AgriEdge, is designed to find ways to enhance soybean yields and profits.)

In far southwest Iowa, HYT farmer Richard Dittberner didn't mind a couple days of rain because it gave him a little time to work on his campaign -- he's running for county supervisor of Fremont County, his first venture into politics.

Dittberner, with 200 acres of soybeans still to cut, says yields so far have been excellent, but only because of "divine guidance. I don't know how else to explain it." With little rain in July, and just spotty showers in August, his best yields have been over 60 bushels an acre, or 15 to 20 bushels better than he estimated back in September.

"Once the leaves started to drop, you could see there were a lot of pods," Dittberner says. "The thing that may have saved us is that there was very little insect or disease pressure on this crop. We weren't getting much rain, but none of those other things went wrong at the same time."

He gives a lot of credit for his soybean yields to no-till practices, which held the soil moisture during the dry streaks. "We'll be seeing more no-till around here next year," he predicts.

As soon as the beans are harvested, Dittberner plans to immediately seed some of the acres to winter wheat. Wheat prices are spurring his interest in this, as he can contract them for delivery next summer at $4.25 per bushel. His budgeted cost to seed, fertilize and harvest the crop is $64 an acre, meaning even a 20-bushel wheat yield will be profitable. If he can harvest the wheat in late June, he'll come in right behind with the soybean drill and try to pull off a doublecrop.

Across the Missouri River in Nebraska, HYT member Michael Thomas is sitting in his farm shop south of Yutan with a space heater running, waiting for the rain to stop on a blustery 40-degree day. For him, the timing on the rain isn't so bad, because his combine has been in his dealer's shop for a couple of days anyway, to fix a twisted shaft.

As he recalls the soybean growing season, he says there were some anxious moments in July when he was ready to give up on the crop for lack of moisture (none of his fields are irrigated). Then it cooled off in August, and rained about 10 inches just as the pods were filling.

We had visited Thomas last spring as he planted his last soybeans in dry soil a few miles south of his home. "Those beans turned out to be my best," he says, averaging 65 bushels per acre. In the spring, he had plans to try a foliar fertilizer on some of them to see if it would increase yields.

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