HEYWORTH, lll. — Seeing an Illinois farmer planting soybeans in November, even on a warm, bright day, is enough to make someone do a double take.
Ross Albert was planting soybeans on his Heyworth farm on Nov. 20 to see how it would turn out.
“My seed guy challenged me to see what they would do,” said the central Illinois farmer.
He isn’t one to turn down a challenge.
“I’m always tinkering and testing,” Albert said.
His “seed guy,” Darren Roelfs of United Prairie, points out that they only planted one acre of soybeans in November.
“We’re not crazy people,” jokes Roelfs, a certified crop advisor. The planting is an experiment.
“We expect it to fail. It has to do more with learning,” he said of the research assisted by BASF funding. Without such funding and support, “we wouldn’t do it,” he said.
It’s not the first time this pair has planted outside the usual soybean planting dates.
Planting “ultra early” in 2018 inspired them to experiment further. The soybeans they planted in March did well that year. And they learned some things.
“Local farmers heard about it and thought we were nuts,” Roelfs said.
However, those lessons came in handy this spring when a few farmers saw a good planting window on April 8 and 9. They asked Roelfs if it would be worthwhile planting. From his experience with the March soybeans two years earlier, he could say that if the soil conditions and weather forecast (30 days out) looked promising, they could go ahead and plant.
“Several growers did what they saw fit,” Roelfs said. They planted and were successful.
The farmers who planted in the second week April this year were happy with their results. They saw an increase of 8 to 9 bushels per acre over others in McLean County who planted in mid-May, he said.
Roelfs said he would never have given that advice if he had not learned from the March soybeans.
Albert planted soybeans in March again this year.
“They were all right,” he said of the yield.
He used the same variety he planted in April. The soybeans planted in April yielded between 6 and 8 bu./acre more than those planted in March, Albert said.
Farmers in Illinois have seen odd soybean planting dates before, with one of the most memorable being by Kris Ehler near Thomasboro in Champaign County. He planted soybeans in February in 2017.
On an unseasonably warm, sunny day, he planted in shirt sleeves in the second month of the year. On Sept. 18 that year, he welcomed a surprising harvest of 86.9 bu./acre. Ehler started planting soybeans earlier and earlier to prove a point that early planting can increase yields. But even he didn’t expect this kind of result.
“I was hoping for the high 60s or 70s,” Ehler said of the one-acre plot of full-season beans.
Roelfs, who has worked at the elevator in Danvers, Illinois, since 1999, said he has seen some bean spillover on the ground in the fall. It lies by the bin all winter and germinates in the spring. That observation was a factor that made him want to do more research on planting in the fall.
Roelfs and Albert have done other treatment trials for BASF.
“Everything, we learn something from it,” he said.
The innovative Albert, who is a first-generation farmer, works full-time as an ag lender for First Mid. He was a farm manager for Soy Capital from 2013 to 2019 and moved into ag lending in order to have more time for his own farming operation. He also has experience with third-party research.
Albert grew up in a rural area with five acres of land and was active in 4-H and FFA.
“As a little kid, I was drawn to farming and livestock,” he said.
He has grown his operation to 700 acres so far and is looking for more opportunities to expand the farm, which includes grass-fed beef. Currently his farm isn’t big enough to support his family without an off-farm job, but it is big enough to be a farmer and an innovator.
As for the November soybeans, the message to other farmers is “don’t do this at home.” However the November experiment could produce lessons that help for planting in the second week in April, Roelfs said.