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3 Takeaways From the Kansas Soybean Expo

Award-winning yields, infrastructure needs and collaborative research highlight the annual event.

When it comes to inland waterway systems, you’re no doubt aware of the need to upgrade locks and dams system on the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers.

Yet, the Arkansas River system, which serves Arkansas and Oklahoma, is a vital shipping artery for those two states, southern Missouri and Kansas. Dedicated in 1971, the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System (MKARNS) has 18 locks and dams. In 2017, the 445-mile system moved $3.5 billion worth of product to the Mississippi River. Soybeans were the third-highest value product of that total, with 53 million bushels of soybean moving on the MKARNS, and 45 million bushels of wheat, according to Thaddeus Beebe, waterways program manager at the Oklahoma Department of Transportation.

At 50 years of age, the MKARNS system is far younger than the Mississippi and Missouri waterways systems. Still, MKARNS is showing signs of age, with three major projects prioritized by the Waterways Advisory Board:

  • Updates to the Three Rivers Structure. River traffic is diverted from the Arkansas River to the White River the final 10 miles before reaching the Mississippi. Continued flooding of the White River, which – like the Verdigris River – flows into the Arkansas, compromises the ability of barges to navigate the Arkansas River. In 1989, a “Melinda Structure” levee was built, to separate navigable water of the White River from the lower Arkansas, which is unnavigable. Since then, the Army Corps of Engineers has spent $20 million to repair the Melinda Structure, which is damaged whenever high water on the Mississippi backs up into the White River, according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazettenewspaper. At the Kansas Soybean Expo, Steve Taylor, member of the Waterways Advisory Board and chief operating officer for Port 33 at the Bruce Oakley Inc., says the Corps spends $2 million to $4 million each year to repair the Melinda Structure. The Waterways Advisory Board is proposing that the Corps fix the Melinda Structure permanently, rather than continue making piecemeal repairs that divert funds away from other important projects.
  • Backlogged maintenance.There is nearly $140 million in unfunded “critical maintenance,” defined as integral parts of the system that have a 50% chance of failure in the next five years, Beebe says.
  • A 12-foot channel.When built, the Arkansas River Channel had a 9-foot-deep river channel. The advisory board wants the channel dredged to 12 feet, which would allow fully loaded barges to navigate.

With major repairs needed on the Mississippi and Missouri River waterways, the likelihood of getting these projects fully funded is remote. However, leaders from the four states are collaborating to lobby for as much funding as possible.

100-Bushel Soybeans

The Kansas Soybean Yield and Quality contest has its second member of the 100-bushel per acre club. Love & Love Farms, Montezuma, eclipsed the century mark with a conventional tillage, irrigated entry that made 104.14 bushels per acre, taking top honors in the 2018 Kansas contest.  The Gray County farmers achieved this yield planting Pioneer P39T67 variety on May 2, dropping 180,000 seeds in 30-inch rows. They added 10-34-0 fertilizer at planting, and applied Roundup and Authority Maxx herbicides post-plant. Love & Love had strip-tilled the contest field.

The highest dryland yield was 94.10 bushels per acre, achieved by Matt Geiger, who farms near Hiawatha in northeast Kansas. He planted Asgrow 39X7 beans on April 28, dropping 138,000 seeds per acre in 20-inch rows.

Collaborative Research to Boost Yields and Stop SCN

There are 11 member states of the North Central Soybean Research Program, most of which are in the Midwest and Corn Belt. Together, they comprise the largest soybean producing region in the country, says Ed Anderson, executive director of the NCSRP and senior director of research at the Iowa Soybean Association. There are other multistate soybean research programs throughout the country, Anderson notes. 

Each member state of the NCSRP contributes one member to the group’s board of directors, and a minimum of $25,000 in checkoff funding to the group. Combined, the NCSRP has roughly a $4 million budget, which funds a variety of research projects that benefit all the group’s member states.

“Farmers come together and make investments, getting the right people doing the right things. It is well-funded and well-supported. Farmers come to the table with genuine interest and passion to get the biggest impact for soybean farmers across the region,” Anderson says.

Among its past success stories is research in white mold, soybean aphids, sudden death syndrome, and the Plant Health Initiative.

Currently, the group has 11 projects receiving funding for Fiscal Year 2019. Key projects include:

  • Soybean Gall Midge. Soybean gall midge: This is a new, emerging pest in Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, and Iowa, with a likely presence in Minnesota, Missouri, and Kansas. It’s not a problem for each member state, but is growing in some of the regions, Anderson says. “If left unchecked, it will spread across the Midwest and Mid-South.”
  • Soybean Cyst Nematode Coalition 2.Member states enjoyed success in the “Take the Test, Beat the Pest” campaign for SCN two decades ago, and eventually found one source of resistance to the nematode. However, that single trait is breaking down, causing a new problem with SCN. In 2018, the second SCN Coalition was launched, with an emphasis on using seed treatments, crop rotation, and other management programs.
  • Yield Improvement.In 1920, the U.S. average yield for soybeans was 11 bushels per acre and in the century since, yield has improved to 45 bushels per acre, or at a rate of 0.43 bushels per acre per year in Maturity Groups II to IV. But the trend line for yield improvement is slowing down, says Bill Schapaugh, soybean breeder at Kansas State University. Researchers in NCSRP member states, including Schapaugh, are working on increasing the rate of gain for yield. “For every little bit of yield increase we get, it takes more resources, and more money,” he says. The research centers around bringing about more genetic diversity, genetic prediction tools, and more robust phenotypic data and pedigree information.
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