The quest for the "Holy Grail" of soybean production - 100 bushel per acre yield - is elusive, but not outside the realm of possibility. Those attending the 2012 Soybean Management Field Days learned certain research plots have reached the 99 bushel/acre mark and in some stretches there have been yields over 100 bushels, but reaching that mark consistently over a full field will be dependent on varieties, production practices, equipment and other production inputs.
In 2011 research suggested that limited starter resulted in small, potentially profitable effects on yields, but probably not enough to justify the risk of fertilizer salt damage during germination and emergence, noted Charles Shapiro, University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) soils scientist-crop nutrition. "This year we looked at more foliar treatments at the four sites," he said.
Treatments ranged from full packages of nitrogen soil and foliar applied to manure only to conventional plus the addition of micronutrients. The 13 options should provide a better understanding of what fertilizers are needed to grow 100 bushels per acre, said Shapiro. "Our continued recommendation for soybean nutrition is to base applications on soil tests," he said.
Evan Sonderegger, UNL graduate assistant, discussed research showing row spacing and population can impact yield. In 2012 studies at each location are looking at the impact of narrow row spacing. "Narrower rows tend to have an increase in yield and can lead to quicker canopy," Sonderegger said. "Increases in populations result in increased yields up to 200,000 plants per acre."
The plots are looking at populations of 100,000 in 30-inch and 15-inch rows, 150,000 plants per acre in the same spacing and 200,000 in 30- and 15-inch rows, he said.
Another study is examining populations ranging from 100,000, 150,000 and 200,000 relative to maturity. Nine variations of populations and soybeans with varying maturity dates are at the four sites and, in addition, Sonderegger said plots at research stations at Mead and North Platte include plots with populations as low as 50,000 and as high as 250,000.
Loren Giesler, UNL Extension plant pathologist, talked about soybean disease management. He noted that foliar diseases such as brown spot, bacterial blight and downy mildew are common in Nebraska soybean fields, but often do not reach an economic damaging level. This year especially, there have been few instances of foliar diseases in the state because of the prolonged drought.
While 2011 research on seed treatment showed it did improve stands, differences in stand did not result in significant effect on yield, noted UNL Extension educator Michael Rethwisch. "The initial research was a bit puzzling. This year we are testing the interaction of biostimulant treated soybeans with herbicide treatments," he said.
While he noted biostimulants could increase potential yield, they do not replace nutrition. "Fertilization is still a dominant factor in yield. Increased yields from bio-stimulants will not be realized if fertilization is limiting," said Rethwisch.
"It will be interesting to see the response this year of biostimulants. Last year we put the biostimulants on early in the growing season, but didn't see any significant response in yield. This year we put them on later. It will be especially interesting to see the response and get the data from the Lexington plot as it had hail early in the growing season," he said.
Weed control is another factor in yield potential and another session at the field days covered how to maximize pesticide applications, the importance of adequate carrier rates and an update on herbicide resistant weeds.
Lowell Sandell, UNL Weed Science Extension educator, and UNL graduate student Cody Creech noted drift and efficacy are two critical components to consider when making pesticide applications.
Their 2011 research focused on droplet size used when spraying herbicides. For most commonly used contact pesticides the smaller the droplet the greater the efficacy. However, as droplet size decreases, the potential for drift increases.
Last year, as expected, certain herbicides performed as well or better with large droplets, while others performed poorly. Interactions between spray solution and nozzle size and type must be considered for best results.
At the field day sites, studies examined the impact of carrier rate on efficacy using RoundUp PowerMax, Liberty, Cobra and 2,4-D amine. Each were sprayed with appropriate adjuvants and applied at rates of 5, 7.5, 10, 15 and 20 gallons per acre. Data will be reported at the Crop Protection Clinics in 2013.
Water management is still another factor in yield potential and producers attending the field days had the opportunity to visit the Bit Mobile, a mobile computer lab, that let them try out SoyWater, a decision-aid, web-based tool they can use to track and project season crop development and daily and seasonal cumulative crop water use.
UNL Extension educator Allan Vyhnalek and Jeff Peterson, president of Heartland Farm Partners, discussed the global soybean markets and managing land leases.
Peterson noted that the prolonged drought and poor crops in South America have made the USA soybean crop "the only game in town now until January." That is in spite of a decrease in estimated U.S. average yield from 43.5 bushels per acre last year to 36.1 this year, and estimated total crop below 260 million bushels.
"In 2012 the total average yield in Nebraska is estimated at 43 bushels per acre versus the 53.3 average last year," he added.
This and low world stocks means marketing soybeans has entered a new era, said Peterson, one that requires a comprehensive plan with flexibility and a focus on profitability. He encouraged producers use a grid approach to managing profitability per acre. "You need to know the financial impact, think about the farm's profitability per acre," he said.
With soybeans reaching record high prices and land prices going through the roof, managing land leases is becoming a challenge, said Vyhnalek. Over the last six years, cash rents in most of Nebraska have risen more than 100 percent. The increase in gross income can lead to greed, but also leads to flawed decision-making.
Managing all costs, but especially the cash lease cost will be the key to profitability in soybean farming, he noted. "Instead of using local coffee shop talk or even cash lease survey information, the land lease should be determined by the productivity of the land being leased," Vyhnalek cautioned.
"Communicate, communicate," he said. "Solid communication is fundamental to the future of lease negotiations. Base negotiations on a common set of goals, be sure to have an adequate return from the investment and above all be sure to have a written lease."
More renters and landlords are exploring some type of flexible cash lease arrangements, Vyhnalek noted, based on price, yield or both. Some are even looking at bonus rent, based on above expected price, yield or income.
These and other concepts will be explored in more depth during a Land Management workshop set for Nov. 14 in Lexington, Vyhnalek said.