SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — As a crop advisor for nearly three decades, Brendan Marshall has moved with farmers from a time when soybean planting was a “controlled spill” to an era of precision planting.
He says precise seed placement, planting early, lower populations and effective use of fungicides are all factors in the rise of soybean yields during his career.
For his work helping farmers reach higher yields and more profitability, he was named the 2020 CCA Soybean Master Adviser at the Illinois Soybean Association Soybean Summit here March 10.
When Marshall became a CCA, top-end soybean yields were about 55 bu./acre. Now he’s hoping to help his growers break 100 bu./acre before he retires. He shared some of his ideas on a panel of farmers and advisers at the event.
Fertility is one area where good management can allow some savings. Applying nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium is like putting nutrition in a bank account — at some point, you may want to draw a little out.
It’s all a matter of timing to have the right nutrition for the plant when it needs it, Marshall said.
John McGillicuddy, an independent agronomist based in eastern Iowa, told growers that medium and heavy soils in the Midwest have significant phosphorus and potassium reserves built up. He said nutrients move in and out of availability. The optimum amount of phosphorus is unique to each field, so farmers need to identify their own optimum and right frequency to find a profitable response.
McGillicuddy advises against investing a lot money on phosphorus based on a single soil analysis. Just adding phosphorus isn’t always the answer, he said, giving an example of a field in eastern Iowa.
An area of the field consistently showed low phosphorus and lower yields, but adding phosphorus, even in larger amounts, did not budge its productivity. It was more an issue of mobility, and the farmer needed to take other actions.
If a farmer decides adding phosphorus to a certain field at a certain time is not the best use of money, yield- and profit-
boosting alternatives include fertilizer, tiling, storage or equipment, he said.
“Focus your money on what you see in your field,” he said, calling for a combination of soil tests and observations.
Things that work
Ronald Bruns, of Granite City in southwestern Illinois, said he is going to go with lower planting populations this year. The corn, soybean and horseradish grower said he will likely drop to about 80,000 plants per acre for his soybeans.
Other farmers at the meeting said they could use the information they gathered for seed treatment.
It’s not just one little thing that works, it’s a combination of things that increase yield, Marshall said.
Garry Niemeyer, an Auburn, Illinois, corn and soybean farmer, said that in 2018, during a wet spring that delayed planting, he found success applying fungicide application at stages R3 and R4. He also used nitrogen and 5% urea and got good yields.
Niemeyer said the extra 8 bu./acre he harvested justified the cost of extra fertilizer. He said he might try that technique this year to see how it works with 2020 weather.
Todd Steinbacher, an adviser for ILSoy, said he likes to back up digital data from the combine with weigh-wagon data. There’s value in both and it helps give better accuracy, he said.
The advisers and farmers said the biggest challenges they see this year are marketing, coronavirus, managing herbicides and achieving profitability.