Farming is not a nine to five thing. It’s a passion, a 24/7 constant. That way, you’ll lead your business in this industry to success. Having that passion run through his family is AgriGold Yield Master for both corn and soybeans, Greg McClure. In this episode, he joins Todd Steinacher to share his journey along with his soybean success stories from 2020 and some lessons he learned throughout it all. How do you strive for a higher yield? What are the basic steps to implement that for soybeans? How do you manage your bean crop? How do you incorporate fungicides and insecticides during grain fill time? Greg answers this, and more in this great conversation!
Listen to the podcast here:
How To Strive For Higher Yield With Corn & Soybean Yield Master, Greg McClure
I would like to introduce to you AgriGold Yield Master for both corn and soybeans, Greg McClure.
Thanks, Todd. I’m glad to be here.
How about you take a few moments to tell us about yourself, your family, and your farming operation.
I’m a third-generation farmer. Unfortunately, my dad passed away. My son is fourth generation. We couldn’t do what we do if it wasn’t for those that paved the way before us. I’m fortunate that I have an incredible wife who has been supportive to me and our kids, and allowed us to pursue and chase our passions and our dreams as hard as we do. We have three children. A daughter who’s a rising star in the media and PR industry. My youngest son manages the cattle operation. My oldest son, Cameron, manages the grain farm and the hog operation for us. If it wasn’t for his time, energy, passion, knowledge, a go-getter attitude, we wouldn’t be able to do what we do. I can never thank him enough.
We’re located in Southeast Illinois along the Wabash River overlooking the AgriGold World Headquarters. We enjoy the relationship we have with the AgriGold company and the folks there. Todd, I’d be remiss if I didn’t say upfront that I wanted to congratulate you. Me paying attention to the Illinois Soybean Association. I saw you were awarded the CCA of the Year. I wanted to say congratulations to you and I’m sure an honor well-deserved.
Thank you, Greg. It’s an honor to be associated with the Certified Crop Advisor Board, the board itself, and being awarded that. I have a lot of passion for working with growers on agronomic challenges and concepts. I’m excited that I was given the honor to be the host of this show to share stories of growers as yourself and bring awareness to different agronomic challenges and concepts in the industry. I do appreciate that. I’ll throw it back to you. You gave a great introduction to your family and your farm. Most of us could agree, farming is not an 8:00 to 5:00. It’s a passion and it sounds like everybody within your family carries that passion to make it successful. It’s great hearing that type of story as well.
Thank you, Todd.
We’re going to be talking about some of your soybean success stories from 2020, but before we get into that, I read where you had some great success stories from NCGA Yield Contest. Before we dive into beans, let’s take a high-level sneak peek of what you’ve learned from the NCGA side?
That’s something that we started. I never paid any attention to any Yield Contest until 2017. Since we got involved in that, it helped our operation immensely because it forces us to pay attention to the little details that we looked past before. It always keeps us involved in trying new things. It was an exciting time for us this 2020 because this is the first year that we’ve owned our own sprayer. We learned and overdid some things. We overloaded and we were laid on some products, the things we would have never known if we weren’t involved in this contest, continually watching things, and learning from that.
That’s what’s exciting about the NCGA Contest. It forces you to get out of your comfort zone, to work at things that you wouldn’t have done before and try some things you wouldn’t have tried before. We set a goal a few years back. I told Mike Kavanaugh many times, “My goal is I would like to be able to take the same piece of dirt in the same field, hit 300 bushels of corn and 100 bushels of beans.” I wanted to do it where I could rotate crops and have good agronomic practices at my soil set so that it would work for both corn and beans. That was the exciting part for us. It’s to finally achieve that goal. It’s a fun time to be involved in the NCGA Contest.
Would you like to share any of the highlights from that?
This is the first time we’ve placed first in the state in one category. The most exciting part for me is seeing my son, Cameron, finished third and part of that. He deserves all the recognition in the world. We couldn’t do any of this without the support from the sales and agronomy team here at AgriGold. I always say, “If you’re the smartest man in the room, then move to another room because you’re never going to learn anything.” That’s what’s exciting for us to be around all of these people who are mentors to us.
There’s a lot to be said there. Even myself, I’ve enjoyed chatting with you. To me, this whole journey of the YieldMasters, there are a lot of challenges that we find and we’ve got to overcome those each year. One thing I enjoyed on what you said was your goal is to hit 300 bushels of corn and 100 bushels of beans on the same piece of soil. What that tells me is you got the ability to have good prescriptions for both crops, regardless of what rotations need to be or the dollars based off, and grain markets. You’ve got both pieces of the equation lined up where you can be flexible versus solely honing in on corn so that it doesn’t leave a lot for soybeans. I appreciate the fact that you are striving for high yields concepts on both corn and soybeans for future rotation. I applaud you for that.
That’s the only way that we can be successful long-term across a broad number of acres.
A lot of folks I’ve had conversations with going into 2021 are looking at some more potential soybean acres based on logistics and ingrain market. There are a lot of folks who have tweaked their corn management practices but are starting to reallocate some time and some brainpower to understand soybeans. I’ve had a lot of conversations with folks on that. Rotation drives what we’re going to plant. Markets drive it but at the end of the day, it’s our level of knowledge. We gained that knowledge by doing trials and achieving these higher yield goals on corn and soybean. As we dive into this conversation a bit deeper, when you’re looking at new products and concepts, not every product and concept is going to work. When you do a yield check or trial on a new concept and it does not show a positive response, how do you pick yourself up, keep going, and still striving for a higher yield?
First of all, it’s how you look at it. It’s having the right mental attitude for it. I don’t know about everybody else but I guarantee you, we fail way more often than we succeed with our new ideas and strategies that we try to implement. We’re looking for those limiting factors and we’ve got to isolate those. The only way that I know to do it is to become as educated on things as I possibly can, test everything as much as possible. We have to try new things and figure out what combinations work for each specific field and soil type where our fertility is on that field. Just because something fails on one field, it doesn’t mean it won’t be a success or vice versa in a different scenario. You have to go into it with the idea that it’s okay to fail and you’re going to more often than not. If it was simple, people would already be at taken yields to somewhere greater than where we’re at.
The other thing I tend to see sometimes is we do these trials, set small areas, and make that decision for all of our acres for every year. How do you put into perspective a given product on a small area, whether it needs to be deployed across your full farm or field? Is there a point where it’s got to be tested on many acres or have a certain return before it’s deployed across your full farm?
We have to start in small segments. In our case, we feel like we’re going to fail more often than not. We sure can’t apply something across all of our acres right off the bat. Some of these products and different things that we’ve tried, not just products, but methodologies approaches, we have done those on small acres the first year. If we see some success, expand that to more acres next year. You still can’t take it across all your acres. There are a few things that we have. We’ve learned enough over the last several years. I feel comfortable with that that I get a positive ROI, almost 100% of the time, but those things are far and few between. We’re constantly researching that, trying to figure out how fast and far we can take it across our operation. I’m adverse to some of the risks that it takes if you see something on a small basis to go and apply it across your whole farm in the following year.
As you’re considering products to deploy in your testing program or even across a wide scale, how do you mentally go through these products and decide if it has a niche or fit for your farm or your plant? Many times, we may or may not know why a product has a response. How do we understand the biology of how it works on your crop?
We spend all winter long. It’s a year-round process of reading, research, understanding what others have done before us, looking at each one of those products through our tissue test analysis, looking for those products that can help plug a hole for us, a spot in our production that we need some help or assistance, and something that may be because of our chemistry within our soil, biology, or energy sources. We have to look at each one of those things. We’re doing some things for 2021. We used to be 60% to 70% corn. Not that many years ago, a lot of corn-on-corn. This past year, we were 60% beans, 40% corn, and we’re going to do some bean-on-bean in 2021. That’ll be new to us. We have to learn and figure out what are those products we need for every different situation. That’s the challenge.
There are a lot of products in the marketplace. It seems like more are entering the marketplace. It is worth the time to research the products and know why we’re using it. For the most part, if you don’t have time or a comfort level to do the research or decide it, that’s where reaching out to some agronomy team, your cast, or a CCA. Get some unbiased opinions on how certain products work or a direction. If that’s a limiting factor in your live exalt the minimum to increase yields. There’s a huge network out here. I applaud you for taking the time to do the research yourself and understand these products.
We have a circle of peers and mentors that we use that know our operation ground and understand what we’re trying to accomplish. We don’t try to reinvent the wheel. We want to learn things and accelerate the learning process and advance as quickly as possible, but we couldn’t do that without the mentors and the peers that we have.
I’m going to take our conversation to a different level and dive in a bit deeper into soybean production. From your standpoint, what are some of the basic steps that a producer would need to implement for high yield soybeans?
The first one is planting early. Those are free bushels. Those bushels you can’t fix later, you can’t capture them. Once they’re lost, they’re lost. In the last few years, we only had one planter. A few years ago, we moved to two planners so we had a dedicated soybean planter. It could go to the field anytime we’re ready. Last several years, our soybean planters went to the field before our corn planter. That early planting, getting that being up and out of the ground and getting it to the reproductive stage as early as possible, that’s critical for high yield soybeans. You’re going to plant anyway. There are free bushels there that you have to take advantage of.
As you relate to planting early, is there a special date on the calendar that you strive for or does it depend on the season?
Mother Nature dictates when you can start. I don’t target any particular date on the calendar. I want to push it as much as I can. We’re looking at what our soil condition is. Is the ground ready to plant? We use Advantage Acre quite a bit, which gives us that forecast for temperature and moisture. We use things to determine when we go to the field. We want to get it planted as early as we can. One of the things that are interesting that happens over time is I’ve seen some research where people will be throwing beans out there in way ahead of conditions when they’re optimal or when we should be planting.
I’ll see where they’ll report back where they added yield from doing that. The interesting thing is if you follow up on that research, you’ll discover that what they saw was the reason why those beans they planted in March or February, whatever that they tried, there was almost no GDUs between then and the next planning of the beans. What happened was when they evaluated the stand, they had a lower population out there and it was due to that lower population was the reason why they got the increased yield. It wasn’t because they planted 2 or 3 weeks earlier and the beans only came up one day earlier. That’s what people have to pay attention to and understand what that data is. It’s still about planting when the ground is right.
I’m glad that you opened the door for the insight from a data standpoint. There are many data in the industry that gets mailed out. It’s on the internet going anywhere, but it’s important to dive into some of this data to see how it’s going to work on your own farms and fields but also what you did there. Understand the populations and how many GDUs were different in there. Sometimes, data could almost lead us down a false direction. It’s good to validate the data that we are looking at and how we’re going to make decisions off of it.
You’ve got to watch what it is that you’re looking at and understand what drives that benefit to some of that data that we see. We’ve tried to record the last several years. I’m a believer in getting those beans planted as early as you can because I want to get them into the reproductive stage as early as possible. For us where we live, I want to capture all those added notes that we can possibly get. It’s our goal to get beans flowering before the 1st of June 2020. The interesting thing was in 17, 18 and 19, we had some warm periods after planting. We saw those beans. It didn’t matter where they were, 2.9 through a 4.0 group bean, maturity bean. They started flowering around 750 to 800 GDUs. The interesting thing was this 2020, we had a perfect window to seedbed, the soil was perfect to plant beans, around the 10th of April 2020. We went into a cold spell that we saw coming up.
The air temperature was cold but we carry a temperature probe with us all the time. We’re constantly checking soil temperatures. Even though the air temperature was low, we would see in the app by afternoons, we had clear skies. We had sunshine. The ground temperature where that bean was planted was more in the 65-degree, sometimes 70-degree range. It would be there for several hours during the day. Even though we went through a super cold spell and we didn’t have the GDUs to be flowering by the 1st of June 2020, we did start flowering. This time we were flowering at 550 GDUs. It was something that I didn’t expect, I didn’t think about that much but it goes to show you Mother Nature is still in charge. You plant when you can when the conditions are right and let’s try to get those beans flowering as soon as possible.
You referenced there are digital tools in the industry that we can forecast what our GDUs are going to look like. Not that it might hold us out from planting a corner bean crop but it might let us know the potential risk associated to it so we can alter our decisions. The fact that you referenced that you have a planter dedicated to soybeans and corn, we’ve seen that play out this where conditions weren’t favorable to plant corn. A lot of folks were able to shift the soybeans and speed this whole process because even though the air temperatures weren’t there, that biological activity was saying, “We’re ready to work.”
The fact that you’re able to validate the different GDUs for reproductive stages to start based on the last several years, that gives good insights that we have tools in ways to track this. You want to speed up the reproductive stages as much as we can. That’s where we’re seeing a lot of these yield gains from soybeans. When it relates to trying to pick soybeans, we always try to grab a 2.9 to 4.0 depending on where anybody is at in the countryside. It’s all based on the amount of light, sunlight, GDUs for flowering, and all these other pieces. When you sit back and select a soybean from a relative maturity standpoint, what are some of the pieces that you look for to have a bean on your fields?
We talk about wanting to capture as much sunlight as possible and get as many nodes as we can on these plants. Our goal is to get that plant in reproductive stages as early as possible but we have a timing when we believe that we want those beans to mature. What I mean by that is beans want warmer nights. We want those long days of sunshine still and those warmer nights. Beans have that late massive nutrient pull that has to happen. If we get too late in the year where we have cool nights and we have shorter days of sunlight, then we don’t have the biological activity that we need to take place for proper nutrient uptake.
I want to be cutting my beans in the last half of September, the 1st of October. I don’t want to go too late. We’ve seen that play out. You can see what’s going to happen somewhat with national yields by following temperature maps to some degree. I thought we would have a smaller bean crop than what we had because we planted late in 2019. We planted 85% of our crop after June 1st, 2019. We were still able to capture some 95-bushel beans. The only reason that happened was because in September of 2019, we had a month that the average temperature was warmer than what the average temperature was historically for August.
August and September 2019 was the warmest one on record that we normally would never have got. That has greatly impacted those soybeans. Some people might say, “If you want to capture as much sunlight as possible, why don’t you plant a 5.0 bean as an example where we live here.” I don’t want to do grain fill. I don’t want to do that when that nutrient fold needs to happen too late into the growing season. We pick our maturities based on where we want the endpoint to be based on what we think Mother Nature typically gives us.
You talked about the maximum pull. We know from corn soybeans that it’s going to be taking up a maximum nutrient season long. At some point, all that’s got to be remobilized, whether it be to the kernels, pods and the seeds, but then it still has to have the energy to convert all that into the appropriate forms and needs from the bushel standpoint. I never had anybody explain it to me that way before. I appreciate that. A lot of times, we think we need full-season corn and soybean so it has a wide grain fill period, but you said in years past, we tend to get cooler. In some situations, in August and September, that doesn’t allow that plant to convert all of its energy into bushels. Trying to manipulate that is a great concept and a great way to try to manage our crop to increase yields.
We have to remember with soybeans, our nutrient pull is from the ground up. We don’t move a lot from the top down. With corn, we’re still moving those from the top of the plant from those leaves and we’re sinking that back to the grain, but we’re not doing in soybeans.
To take a slight step back as it relates to planting early, you referenced that you do, you watch the soil temperatures and what’s going on from a biological standpoint. What are your takes on seed treatments from soybeans and how do you incorporate that into your system?
We want them loaded up. We want the works on them. Each and every one of those things that we put on there, we do it for a purpose. We fungicide and insecticide, first of all. That has become necessary for early planting. Mother Nature is trying to put that seed out there early and take that seed from us. There are bugs, diseases, and things that are all trying to destroy that seed, and we want to give it that protection. Before we started putting fungicide and insecticides on these seeds, we couldn’t have planted that as early as we do. We couldn’t get the stand that we get. For us, that’s insurance. Hoping we’re going to go to the field early. We want the maximum amount of fungicide and insecticide we can get on that seed. We also want an inoculant on it. We want that added bacteria to increase the nitrogen fixation.
We had Saltro in all of our beans. We liked that. We didn’t get any of that halo effect on the cotyledons versus some of the other products. We saw a great yield response to it. Our visual SDS control on the leaves was outstanding. I don’t know if you’ll ever get 100% control, but it was outstanding. Sulfur has less load on the seed, which aids in the seed flowability from the planter box into the ground. We liked that part of it.
We have a product from Biovante called BioCore. It’s a 3-in-1 product that we like to use on every bean acre because we feel strongly that there’s a positive ROI response from that. We still get our TAP that’s needed to enhance the seed drop for better seed spacing, which leads to higher yields but it also contains micros and biologicals which I’ve seen better germination in early season bigger. We believe that leads to added bushels stood more uniform stands and more rapidly moving to the vegetative stages to reach the early reproductive stages. That’s what we do from a seed treatment standpoint.
There’s a lot there to break down. I liked that you say you load it up and everything that you have on there has a specific purpose. One of the ones I want to call out first was the inoculant. We spend time and effort managing nitrogen for corn that we hardly ever give any consideration from a soybean standpoint. We know that soybeans need nitrogen. If you look at some data, a corn plant needs 0.9 to 1.2 units of nitrogen per bushel output. Soybeans need 4 to 5 units of nitrogen. My question is how much effort do we put into managing nitrogen for soybeans? Most of the time we don’t. We assume that the soil is going to give it back for the mineralization and a lot of that we can’t control. I liked the fact that we try to find some way to help that bacteria be able to produce more nitrogen for us.
That’s one of those things that you have to do if you want to chase high yield soybeans.
I’ve always read some studies where if we relied on mineralization, nitrogen in the soil, that might be enough for 45 to 60-bushel beans but as we start striving for 80 or 150-bushel beans, we’ve got to reevaluate how we think about some of these concepts. I didn’t want to bring a highlight to that one. The other one that you talked about was the Saltro for the SDS. In a lot of situations, the reason we didn’t plant early was because of the threat of SDS coming in. Infection early but yet when it shows up symptomology late in the season and can nail soybeans. It’s good potential yielding soybeans and brings them down. There have been products brought to the market in the last few years that can allow us to have less risk.
I say less risk because sometimes products in the marketplace are on seed treatments and we think we’re 100% protected. In reality, we’ve got a higher chance of not having an issue if we have protection. I walked fields in the last couple of years that have had the SDS treatment on them. I can find some pockets of them throughout the field or some symptomology of it but if you compare it to the untreated check, night and day difference. We are putting these added treatments on there for a specific reason but our goal is to reduce the risk. We’re not going to eliminate risk but we’re trying to reduce it as much as possible.
We still see spots show up in the field even with the SDS protection packages that we have but they’re minimal. We’re comfortable with implanting early. I like to tell the story that in 2016, we had planted some beans early. What we’ve been reading about is planning these beans early and we did go out. We planted a field of beans early. We went out into those beans. I’m sure it would’ve been in August 2021. I’m doing pod counts, seed counts versus population. We’re looking at that. When you calculate it, you went, “These are 100-bushel beans.” You have to remember, to that point, the highest yield we’d ever had was 72 bushels.
We live in a county here where our average is 50 to 55-bushel beans. As I told my son, “This isn’t going to happen. We know that so something is not right.” I’m not calculating right or something but something is about to go wrong and in about three days later, you drive by the field and start to see these yellowing spots and then they turn brown. In the SDS, we ended up cutting 55-bushel beans. The number of bushels that SDS took from us that year out of that one field was incredible. That’s what I find with a lot of these things that from year-to-year, depending on disease pressure, you get your money back some years but there’s going to be that one year, whether it’s 1 in 5 or 1 in 10 that’s going to pay for all of those years combined and put a lot of money in your pocket. We use it as protection. It’s like buying crop insurance.
You referenced a little bit ago. We’ve had conversations that the seed that goes to the ground, corn, beans, or whatever you want to have it, the moment we put it into the soil, Mother Nature wants to destroy it. Our job as an agronomist, yield masters, farmers as yourself, is to figure out how Mother Nature is going to attack it. Here we are saying, “Let’s plant soybeans earlier so we know if there are potential threats from diseases and SDS.” We’ve got products in the market. If we’re going after this higher yield, we have got to protect these plants so we do get it established, we’ve got good early vigor, and we want to get to the reproductive stage as fast as we can.
Let’s take this dive into a different direction from a soybean population standpoint. Over the last several years, we’ve seen a lot of studies looking at different ranges in populations. We’ve seen populations start several years ago at 200,000 seeds breaker. They’re migrating their way down to 140, 130, or even potentially lower. Where do you like to see your beans at and how do you validate your recommendation there?
That’s the thing that I’m most excited about what we learned here in 2019. We do some population studies here. We took it another step further than what we’ve ever done before. We had a 130-acre field. In the center of that field, we put 2.3-acre blocks out in the middle of the field. It’s not in a plot, it’s in the center of this field, and you wouldn’t know where it’s at unless you had it recorded by GPS. As an example, we planted the AgriGold 3520 bean. We planted it at 30,000, 70,000, 90,000 and 110,000. That was the different populations that we tested that bean at. When we planted the 30,000 population, I didn’t know it for a couple of days but we had a little planter problem.
A part of that 2.3-acre grid, we only got a stand of 20,000. When we harvested those beans, they all made between 100 and 105 bushels to the acre. I would’ve never dreamed whenever we started cutting the 30,000 population, we knew that the potential was there. We’d pull some beans. We’d follow them all year long. We’d taken them to some presentations. We knew those beans had tremendous yield potential but when I started to cut those, I told my son, Cameron, “I’m only going to cut part of the way through. We’ve got this yield monitor tuned in, we’re going to watch that monitor, and as I moved from the 30,000 to the 20,000, when I see that monitor start to drop, I’m going to shut this thing down. We’ll use the rolling wheel and we’ll weigh them. We’ll see what the 30,000 made versus the 20,000.”
As I started cutting those beans, I was watching that monitor, it stayed between 95,000 and 110,000. I knew I was getting into the 20,000 and the monitor should be dropping, and it never dropped. You could see no difference at all on the yield monitor. Those beans still made 102 bushels. I always say, “We need to change the narrative when we talk about soybeans.” People walk out into a field and they see a spot that has a lower population and people will say, “Don’t worry about that. That bean has the ability to compensate or adapt to that lower population.”
I always say, “It’s the other way around.” If you plant a seed out by itself, it will naturally shorten and a lot more laterals on it. I believe it wants to breathe, have some sunlight, and have some space. What we tend to do is force it to adapt or to compensate by going to too high of populations. I’m not in any way promoting that we need to be planting 20,000 or 30,000 population because there are other problems that come in with that. We want to cover the ground sooner or there are things that we want to do. We planted that because we wanted to understand and study the structure of the bean. I had to cut those beans at 1.5 miles an hour because I’m trying to get the laterals that were on the ground and get them into the platform.
How exciting it is to see at that bean plant, we statistically got the exact same yield at all of those different populations to see that being flex. We talk about corn hybrids all the time. We talk about this hybrid we know is semi-rigid or this one has a flex air or whatever that it has, but we don’t know which beans have the ability to adjust to different populations. People will ask, “What populations should I be planning my beans?” I don’t know what bean are you planting. Not all beans have that ability to flex the way as an example than the 3520 does. It’s incredible to think that that bean, at all those different populations, has come out with the exact same yield. Each one of those populations, the structure of that bean, then the number of laterals, as an example on that bean, the plant height and the laterals would be significantly different at each population, yet in the end, the yield was the same.
We think from a corn standpoint, one of the variables that we can control the most is population. We tend to see populations increase to a point where we don’t see a strong return. We do know that on corn, we do have true flexed ears that lighter populations, lighter soils, they can flex aggressively. Thanks again for challenging the readers and me because until I heard this, I was never challenged to think about soybeans or a given variety on how well it can flex. It’s a great insight that a bean tends to want to be a little shorter or put more laterals on it but based on our management decisions for the last several years, based on Mother Nature’s risks she throws at us. We’ve been artificially making these beans like the environment that they’re in based on how we know how to manage them.
This brings a whole other layer to understanding soybeans and how we can manage them to a different degree. I do like the fact that you called out across all those populations you’ve seen relatively flat or similar yields. The first person might think, “We all need to be planning at 30,000 pops.” I’m glad that you brought out that we did see good yields at that stage, but yet we have a whole other host of potential problems that could arise by having a lower population. They always say, “It’s a balance of the arts and sciences.” We’ve got to balance what the plant wants, but also balance what the fields are going to throw at us. I’m glad that you addressed that.
That’s the exciting point of that. We always underestimate the potential of the bean. To see how that particular variety as an example, the ability for it to flex can help us make decisions. We have a spot out in the field, do we need to replant this? Would we gain anything? We can learn some things from that standpoint. We did it to study the architecture of the bean. I’m not planning on planting a bunch of acres at 30,000. That’s not the point of it at all. We know that that bean has the ability to flex at all those different populations. We’re going to plant most of our beans somewhere in that 110,000, 125,000.
That’s typically where we plant our beans and we’ll continue to do that. Here’s the point of the research that is exciting. I’ll take an example that we saw 90,000 and 110,000 that provide the same yield. What we want to do is not to figure out how low like, “Can we do that at 70,000? If we can do that at 70,000, could you save a little bit of seed?” Yes. “Would you have more weed problems? Would you have something else?” I don’t know. You might offset that expense with other expenses that you have to incorporate.
Here’s what we’re trying to do. It’s a different angle at it. The difference between 90,00 and 110,000, as an example, is over 20% in the population. What we’re trying to do is figure out, how do we create the same plant that we had at 90,000? What can we do to create that plant at 110,000? We’re adding a little over 20% to the population. If we could create the same plant at 110,000 that we do at 90,000, we could add a little over 20% to our yield. That’s the angle we’re trying to look at. I’m not trying to figure out how to save a dollar but how do we produce 5%, 10%, 15%, 20% more to add to our ROI at the end of the year.
As folks go down this path and journey, you highlight it nicely there. It’s about investment. It’s not always about saving something on the front side or backside. Don’t get me wrong. Costs of inputs are part of the equation. As we start striving for higher yields, it’s not about this concept or this treatment cost me X. It needs to be like, “This investment that I put on here returned to me an ROI of X, Y, and Z.” I’m glad that you brought that up. You’re looking at soybean productions from an ROI piece to strive for higher yields and higher profits, but you’re spending a bit more to get to that point. You look at inputs as an investment, not a cost.
At the end of the day, what you want to figure out is, what is your cost per bushel? How can we maximize the best ROI that we can possibly get?
You hit on the population and planning dates. Do you have any preference as it relates to row widths?
We do both 15 and 30-inch rows and we do it based on the environment, the planning day, and what the forecast is. Every year when I walk fields, I always think at the beginning of the year, when you look at it, the 15-inch rows are going to outyield a 30. Later in the year, those 15-inch rows collapse, they cover earlier, you’re not getting as much airflow through them. They start to nest those bottom leaves, and you don’t see that on the 30-inch rows. Every environment is different. Where you farm, what your ground is, what time of the year it is, what your equipment is, and costs, a lot of variables.
Every person needs to figure that out for themselves. The most critical thing is not much the discussion of row width as it is seed spacing. When it comes down to it at the end of the day, we’re studying and trying to figure out what’s the optimal distance between plants to create the number of laterals that we want, that we think has the strongest stems that are going to maximize yield for us to prevent lodging later in the year. That’s our challenge.
I liked that you referenced regardless of where somebody is at. A 15 or 30-inch row spacing depends on their own environments because I know in some lighter soils, challenged areas, we try to get a canopy fast so we can conserve moisture at the surface layer because if we’re losing moisture, we’re not allowing nutrients to move. At the end of the day, it depends on their own individual operation to make that justification. Let’s take another dive into another area that I know you’re passionate about and to be quite honest, I’ve strengthened my passion on this topic in the last couple of years. It’s around tissue sampling. How do you use this concept to manage your bean crop?
We started tissue testing in 2017. We had no idea what we were doing. We collected some samples, send them in, and didn’t know what they meant. Trying to get the data back and knew that at some point, we needed to build a database to see what that plant was doing. In year one, I’m not sure. That’s all you’re trying to do. It’s to develop a baseline. Knowing what I know now, the thing that I’m extremely passionate about is that tissue testing. I don’t know how we would progress and improve without doing it. It’s the only way that gives us some knowledge that we can use for the future. When we first started doing it, we had soil tests, and we had tissue tests. We saw some things that didn’t make sense. I want to give you an example. You wouldn’t know this without tissue testing. Our pH on our soil is exactly where we wanted them to be so that they would be optimal for corn and soybeans for our rotation. We had our base saturation and our calcium, most of the time, close to 80% or a little high. I always assumed that we did it.
We’re doing everything that we could from that standpoint. When we got our tissue tests back, we started looking at things and started noticing that when we started doing the research and asking those questions, people say, “Your calcium levels in your plant aren’t as high as what they’d like to see them.” I thought that was interesting. I was struggling with, “Why is that? How could that be? Is that even possible?” The exciting thing was we’d do our research, we ended up meeting up and hooking up with the next level ag in South Dakota, Jason Sly there.
They did some testing there that we couldn’t find at any other labs. I sent him some soil and some tissue samples and sure enough, he kicked back to us. He told us the exact same things that our pH was right, our base saturation was right, but the plant available calcium was low. You would never know that. I would never had any idea of that if I hadn’t been tissue sampling. That’s an area that we’ve been working on correcting. Those are things you wouldn’t know and you don’t know based on your soil, your fertility, and the chemistry that’s in your soil.
If you don’t tissue test, you can’t see when the nutrient pulls happen, which nutrient, where you have a weakness, a low spot, and timing in the year. In that year one, when you see those things, it’s too late to fix it. The exciting thing is that in year two, you see it again and you go, “Now I know I have a problem here and I have to figure out the timing of how do I address that situation? How do I correct it? What product do I need to use? How far in advance?” It’s the same thing with product usage. That’s the only way I know to test. There are many variables that go into yield. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell but am I getting some product into the plant or am I not?” Tissue testing helps us answer those questions.
I’m glad you shared some of your experiences with this concept. I can remember before coming to AgriGold, I was in ag retail for several years. We use tissue sampling every once in a while. I wasn’t a huge fan of it because it didn’t tell me much. What I do like is how we’re using it in a systems approach. We have structured GDUs and we’ve got to calibrate it down to where we can understand what nutrients big players at certain times are so we understand the big nutritional draw. When I use this information, the charts I use with growers, it’s potted out at different yield plateaus. As I look at from a corn standpoint, one that’s at 2,400, 2,600 GDU at the end. In my mind, I can close my eyes and see it. It’s a stair stack going upwards. The lowest stave is the lowest yield and it starts to act up to a higher-yielding plateau.
Those are the nutrients that are important to have at the highest concentration at a later stage in the crop. We can sit back and say, “Based on my management practice, my soils, if I’m coming up short, that might mean that I’m doing a good job of front-loading these nutrients. As we learned over the years that grain fill is more influenced by nutritional plant health and all these other pieces, are we managing to the backside of these nutritional needs?” Some of the growers I’ve worked with over the last several years thought the way they’re doing it was going to supply the backside, but once we do the tissue sampling project, it opens our eyes to what we may thought was real to be false. Having these systematic samples helps you understand how to manage it. As you said, what products do we need to be deploying and what concepts do we need to fix? If somebody is not already doing a tissue sampling project, reach out to the AgriGold folks, and let’s get one set up with you. It’s a huge insight on how to manage your crop.
Your agronomy team there at AgriGold has done wonders. Your research has led me to look at things a lot differently. The thing that you pointed out, we’ve tried to take that in conjunction with working with next level labs. We’ve taken that and tried to combine those two things to some degree, look and understand as corn as an example, you’re spot on. You look at those early tissue samples and realize that at the beginning of a plant’s life, they all contain the same total percentage, fairly close, of nutrients. It’s about how you finish in the year and what level of those nutrients, not only what level you are at, but even as important is what is the ratios between some of those different nutrients. That’s the exciting thing. You can’t learn that without tissue testing.
It’s no different than, if you or I, or anybody is having some type of a medical problem, we go get blood work. That blood work gives us an indication of what’s going on. If you can be more proactive with how you manage yourself going into that blood test, you can have a better outcome for it. The piece that I’ve learned by doing the tissue sampling projects and all these other pieces that you’re doing, you’re spending more physical time with your crop. We get out what we put into something. Here we are spending all this time and effort doing tissue samples. It doesn’t work logistically, but good information is coming out of it to where you can make better insightful decisions. Scouting almost a lost activity anymore. One day, they’re going to read in the history books, “What’s the scouting thing that agronomy folks used to do?” It is a lost art. You said you’re out in your fields with temperature thermometers, you’re digging things up, and you’re evaluating everything. It’s this insight, you have more information to make better decisions and it’s working.
It forces you to become a better scout. You’re out there in the field, you’re seeing these things, problems, impacts, positive things, and you’re learning about plant structure, how the plant responds to this environmental issue. You’re out there finding the early onset of a pest that’s causing you problems. We had some problems in 2020 with a pest that I didn’t even know existed. I never dreamed it would move in that early into our crop. If I hadn’t been out there studying and pulling that first issue sample, we got on it right away and we became a minimal impact but it could have been a large impact had we not been out there on top of it. We discovered it because we went out to tissue sample.
As we sit back and think of a crop, corn or soybeans, both, a lot of growers, that’s their livelihood. Their goal is to produce as many bushels profitably as they can. If we’re going to get to this next layer in profitability and yield, we’ve got to pay attention to the little details because it’s all those little details that could add up to a big problem. Whether it’s the tissue sampling, it’s doing your own research, and it’s evaluating everything you’re seeing, all these pieces play into it. It’s such great insight there. I appreciate it. We spent the morning talking about all these pieces that influence yield but there’s one category that we haven’t talked about a bit and I want your thoughts on it. It’s grain fill. During the grain fill window, there are a lot of things attacking the plant from a disease standpoint or an insect standpoint that can hurt yield that we spent all season building up. How do you incorporate fungicides and insecticides during grain fill time, corn and soybeans to make sure we’re capturing all the yield that we built?
Think about the maturity of the bean that you plant. Within a week or two, we know when we’re going to harvest that bean. Some of our management practices and our thought processes have changed. When we plant those beans earlier than we used to and we are doing everything we can to drive those things as quickly as possible into the reproductive stage to have that longest period that we can, we know everybody else can do their own calculation but we want to cut those beans. We want to harvest them somewhere that third week, something like that of September, taking the 3520 as an example.
When we know that, we know then that we need to have protection for that bean from a fungicide standpoint and insecticide standpoint. We need protection through the end of August as an example, otherwise, we’re still going to lose yield. When we’re planting early and we’re monitoring when that bean starts the reproductive stage, we know that we’re going to be entering R3 somewhere around the second week of July. With that in mind, it’s easy for us to look at that and say, “That period is longer than a three-week period.”
We can calculate and know how many passes a fungicide and insecticide we need to apply to that plant. It’s no longer a one-pass system on high yield beans. Fungicide is not necessary. You can’t look at it and go, “It’s X number of bushels because it’s more X percentage of potential that you have out there on that bean.” On these high yield beans, we’re spraying them with the fungicide and insecticide. We’re hitting them as they’re entering R3, we may even be early on it. We already have it planned ahead of time and we already know that we’re going to do a second pass. We continue to see a positive ROI on the second pass on these early high yield beans.
We had a lot of great insight on planting dates, row width, planting population, using seed treatments to protect, and using fungicides to protect grain fill. Regardless on planting dates, we need to watch when that heavy grain fill piece is occurring so we can protect it. As you sit back and look forward to the 2021 crop, what are some things that you’re excited for?
I may have mentioned earlier 2020 was the first year that we’ve owned our own sprayer. We learned a lot of some good lessons we had with our Y-drops. We tried them both on corn and beans. I’m looking forward to implementing some of the things that we learned from 2020, both good and bad, on how to use our sprayer, how to use our Y-drops, when to be in the field, and when not to be in the field. We’re excited about that because we’ll be better managers of that in 2021. I am excited about the XtendFlex soybeans to line up. That’s coming up. We’re not going to throw those Xtend beans that we’ve had much success with.
We’re not going to throw those out of our arsenal. The XtendFlex has going to be some more yield potential in those beans and we’re going to be able to use those in places where we could use spray dicamba before. We’re excited about getting those genetics into our lineup. We are going to focus an awful lot. We feel like in some of the areas, every field and environment is different. Some areas of our farm need to stay focused on chemistry. We don’t have the fertility where it needs to be. Get your ground right first before you worry about anything else. In some areas, we have our ground where we want it, in other areas, we don’t. We’re going to focus on energy components and biologicals heavily in 2021. We’re going to study and focus on our carbon levels.
We’re excited about that. We start planning for 2021 and 2020. We’ve done some things to prepare some ground for some bean-on-bean trials that I’m excited about learning. The one thing that has excited me as much as anything is to realize how small the amount of potential of soybeans that we’ve ever been able to capture. Corn research is a lot of years ahead of bean research. We know all these things about how we should plant corn. By hybrid, we know uptake. Some in nitrogen more early in their life, some later in their life, some flex, some don’t, and different populations that you can plan each one of them because of those things.
We have the curve of nutrient uptake, some planned out much better than we have for soybeans. We have a lot to learn about soybeans, but here’s the thing that was eye-opening to me that gets me excited. When I think about the fact that on 20,000 plant population, we harvested over 100-bushel beans. One unit of seed is 140,000 seeds for one unit that we purchased. At 20,000, we harvested over 100 bushels. We know in that one bag of 3520s as an example, that one bag had the potential to harvest over 700 bushels of beans on one unit. We think about the average population, it’s planted out there somewhere relatively close to 140,000. One unit per acre and we’re harvesting 50.
You have a farm that average 70. We know that the potential for that one bag was we harvested it at a rate of 700. We felt there’s no way that we began to capture the total potential of that. I’m sure we weren’t even close, but who knows what percentage we were? The point I’m trying to make is on that one unit. On average, we’re capturing less than 10% of the potential of what’s in that bag of seed. What if we could capture 1% more? That’s not just 1% to your yield if we could capture 1% more of the potential. It’s crazy for me to think about the fact that that one bag has the potential to fill a semi. At the end of every growing season, it seems as though my biggest takeaway is that I have grossly underestimated the potential of the soybean. That’s what excites and invigorates us even more to try new things in 2021.
That’s some great insights in our conversation. Sitting back thinking about the potential of soybeans, if we start thinking, there’s much out there for opportunities. We could be content with 50 bushels or 60 or 80, but striving for these higher bushels. Not only to hit more farm income or yield contest helps get us there but thinking how much knowledge that we can unlock from soybeans and manage this to a point where soybeans are a part of the rotation a bit more aggressively. It can help areas that need improvement from a soil standpoint. At the end of the day, there are many opportunities here. You did a great job of exploring areas to look forward and to be more insightful of your crop. I would challenge everybody reading to spend time learning more about your crop and your crop will tell you a story if we’re willing to listen to it. With that, I appreciate your time.
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