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Lessons from 154-bushel-per-acre soybeans

Pick the best genetics for your farm. Apply a fungicide. Scout regularly. And don't be afraid to try some new practices.

That's some of the formula that Kip Cullers, Purdy, Missouri, used to break his own world's soybean yield record. His 2007 Missouri Soybean Association test plot yield of 154 bushels per acre surpassed his 2006 world record yield of 139 bushels per acre.

To help soybeans reproduce, Cullers picks varieties that best fit his fields. He bases variety selection largely on extensive on-farm test plots. This year, he planted Pioneer 94M80 soybeans, a Group 4.8 soybean. He credits this Roundup Ready variety with packing much yield potential along with resistance to diseases like sudden death syndrome and resistance to soybean cyst nematode.

Cullers also takes what he's learned from growing vegetables like green beans to corn and soybean production. Fungicides are a crucial component for growing green beans, since a fungal outbreak can render the crop unmarketable.

Fungicides have also played a key role in helping preserve soybean yield potential. He applies Headline at the R2 and R3 stages (full bloom to beginning pod). Cullers also laces Headline with crop oil concentrate to keep it from evaporating.

"It can curb soybean diseases that pop up late in the season," says Cullers. "It also stimulates growth and plant health. Soybeans can reproduce with one seed if that's what they want, but a healthy plant lives to reproduce."

On average, he figures fungicides have bumped yields three to seven bushels per acre.

"The big advantage is that it extends plant growth during a dry spell and can carry you for a couple weeks longer," he says. Growth extension enables a plant to put on more flowers and pods, he adds.

Each year, Cullers tinkers with new production practices. This year, he tested a French-made Monosem twin row planter for planting soybeans.

"Compared to drilled, solid-seeded soybeans, the twin rows put them in two rows," he says. "You get good air movement going through the two rows, and the planter does an excellent job of spacing them."

The planter also helps create more equidistant spacing between plants. This helps plants capture more sunlight, which generates more photosynthesis and ultimately more yield.

"We also applied Optimize to enhance root development," says Cullers. This seed-applied product is touted as giving improved vigor and stand emergence, and an improved root system for boosting nutrient and water uptake. "The root mass was twice of what it was where we didn't put it," he says.

Other production components consist of:

  • Regular watering. This ensures Cullers' soybeans remain unstressed during the growing season.
  • Higher-than-normal seeding rates. Cullers seeds his contest-irrigated soybeans around 220,000 plants per acre. "That's probably a little above normal, but we"re trying to go after yields," he says.
  • Poultry litter. This forms Cullers' fertility program for soybeans. "The one thing I notice that separates folks in yield contests is using manure for fertilizer," says Cullers.
  • Regular scouting. This is another vegetable production technique that transfers to soybeans. Cullers visits every one of his corn, soybean, and green bean fields daily, looking for weeds, insects and diseases.

"When I scout, I don't go into the same place very day," Cullers says. "I get on a four- or five-day rotation of different parts of each field."

Cullers plans to continue tweaking his production plan, maintaining the emphasis on variety selection and fungicides while examining new tools. Cullers thinks 200 bushel per acre soybeans are attainable.

"We apply a lot of things in taking a total systems approach," he says.

Pick the best genetics for your farm. Apply a fungicide. Scout regularly. And don't be afraid to try some new practices.

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