When Jeff Phillips called us at Indiana Prairie Farmer three years ago with an opportunity, it seemed like a good idea. He wanted to set up replicated plots at the nearby Throckmorton Research Farm near Romney, and he wanted help an support from us. We were more than happy to oblige, and have participated eagerly over the past three seasons.
What did the Tippecanoe County extension ag educator have in mind? Simply to figure out ways to boost soybean yields a bit higher. Growers in his area were complaining that soybeans seemed to have hit a plateau, with yields in the high 50's and occasionally low 60 bushels per acre range, but seldom much higher. What was holding back soybean yields, and what would it take to push yields higher?
We've tried a variety of things: pel lime in the spring, fertilizer in the spring, nitrogen at mid-season, high populations, low populations, micronutirents, seed treatments, and on and on. And after three years, what have we learned?
Do we have to be honest? If so, the answer is obvious- weather is still the 800-pound gorilla! No matter what treatment we tried in '03, the weigh wagon scales struggled to get above 40-bushels per acre. In fact, many plots hustled to best the 30 bushels per acre mark, and several fell short of even that mark.
To be fair, northwest Indiana was pounded with flooding in both mid and late summer. Yields were substandard across much of the area. Flat black soils that turned out up to 200 bushels of corn per acre last fall hustled to kick out 30 bushels of soybeans per acre.
"Even our plots looked like 50 â€“bushels per acre or better," Phillips says. "I heard that a lot last fall. But when we got our combine intot he plots, the story was the same as what many farmers told me happened on their farms. The yield simply wasn't there."
Where did it go? In seed size, for one. Some seeds were normal size, but more often than not, many were so small that they were dwarfed when placed in the palm of Phillips' hand.
Some never made it to the seed stage at all. Phillips reports lots of blanks, not only in our plots, but in farm fields last fall. Some nodes had only scars where there should have been extra pos. And many pods only had a couple beans where there should have been more.
Certain practices, such as pel lime and high population, helped a bit last year. It was the third year in a row to see an advantage from pel lime. But in the final analysis, Mother Nature, game, set an match, no contest!