Chad Kalaher, Beck’s field agronomist

Chad Kalaher, Beck’s field agronomist, speaks at a meeting in El Paso, Ill., about the company’s crop research in 2019.

EL PASO, Ill. — The volume of “Practical Farm Research” (PFR) released by Beck’s from its trials of products and practices across the Midwest is considerably less than usual this year.

The program was another victim of the wet and weird weather last year.

“2019 was a rough year. We threw away about 40% of our (PFR) data last year,” said Chad Kalaher, Beck’s field agronomist for east and central Illinois. He said they didn’t want the weather to skew results.

In total, the seed company and its partners devote about 800 acres to study products from closing wheels on planters to tillage equipment and practices including nitrogen timing and crop rotations.

Some of the long-term studies declare products or practices “PFR Proven,” which means they have continuously provided positive yield gains and increased return on investment for at least three years.

Planting dates

Planting date is naturally one area where data is different this year, as so many farmers planted at least one month later than they intended. But there are still some viable observations, Kalaher said at a meeting at the Beck’s facilities in El Paso, Illinois, Jan. 20

Farmers attending the meeting nodded their heads in agreement at the challenges of planting in a timely manner this year. Steve Pfister, who farms near Roanoke in Woodford County, said his planting was late, and he didn’t even get the last 3% in the ground.

Farmers weren’t surprised to hear corn planted in April in the central Illinois counties of Woodford and McLean tended to have higher yields than that planted in May.

Soybeans likewise do better with earlier planting dates. However, Kalaher noted soybean yields don’t drop off as dramatically as corn planted at a later date.

“It depends on the weather — if we can get it done then or not,” Kalaher said.

When possible, average soybean planting in central Illinois has moved up from June 1 to May 1 in the last 20 years.

“Seed treatments give us some advantages,” he said.

With 10 years of research, seed treatments, on average, give about $50 per acre return on investment annually, Beck’s reports. But it is variable, also depending on the weather, Kalaher said. For example, in 2014, treated seed boasted an extra $124/acre compared to only a $17/acre advantage last year.

As for nitrogen research, Kalaher said, “I’m a believer that starter fertilizer belongs on most farms. Research shows that when it was applied on both sides of the row, there was a 4.7 bu./acre average gain.”

Row width

Narrower rows have out-performed wider rows in soybeans year after year as well. The 15-inch rows have averaged about 3 bu./acre better than 30-inch rows in 10 years of studies, he said.

Some of that can be attributed to the crop canopy that controls weeds.

However, for people with equipment investments for 30-inch rows, this isn’t an easy or inexpensive switch.

More information about the research projects is available at

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Phyllis Coulter is Northern Illinois field editor, writing for Illinois Farmer Today, Iowa Farmer Today and Missouri Farmer Today.