DECATUR, Ill. — Ryan Myers, a Fairbury, Illinois, crop farmer, is always looking for ideas to grow more productive crops in eastern Illinois.
Like thousands of others, he gathered information at the Farm Progress Show in Decatur Aug. 29 by looking at demonstration plots, talking to other farmers, and learning about new products and practices from ag businesses and agronomists
He knows that making a few changes in practices can help raise yields. In only three years he has pushed his average soybean yields from 60 bu./acre into the 70s. Myers, who was part of a panel discussion organized by BASF at the show, says he believes reaching 100 bu./acre average is attainable in the near future.
It’s a time when soybean yields are being smashed.
“It’s exciting,” Scott Kay, BASF vice president of U.S. crop and moderator of the panel, said about Alex Harrell, a southwest Georgia farmer, who toppled previous high yield records with 206.7997 bushels per acre in August.
Still, Kay notes it will take a lot of effort for Midwest farmers to average 100 bu./acre.
No one thing will get farmers there, Myers said. It will take a combination of things including using the right varieties, good weed control, using technology and managing data to reach those goals.
“It’s going to be all these things,” said Myers, who is also the integrated solutions consultant for Prairie State Tractor, a John Deere dealership in Pontiac. He helps other farmers make the most of the data collected on their farms.
On his own farm, he tests new products and practices and carefully keeps a history of all he has learned. It starts with choosing the right varieties for his soil type and his specific farm, and he gets good advice from his seed agronomists in doing that.
“We’re not using an old-style planter that gets large variance,” he says of using technology to get even planting depth and even stands.
Of course, once the seed is in the ground, managing diseases is a priority. Kay said soybean cyst nematode costs U.S. farmers $1.5 billion annually. Myers said he is looking forward to a new GMO trait for SCN that BASF said will be ready to use by the end of the decade.
As for weed management, for farmers to reach 100 bu./acre there need to be more modes of action. He says one of his biggest challenges is “almighty water hemp.”
This summer he tried a smart sprayer. It allows him to apply residual at the same time. It saves money because only 10% of the field gets the contact spray it needs to kill weeds.
It worked well but there is room for improvement, he said. It worked best in 30-inch rows where the sensors can see the weeds. It is less effective in 15-inch rows where the canopy hides some weeds.
“It can’t kill what it can’t see,” he said, but “smart sprayers will be a game changer for the future.”
Myers strip tills, tissue tests his soybeans, wonders what micronutrients he should be using, and tried Pivot Bio on his corn crop this year in his quests for best practices for his particular farm.
He has an eye on the future.
“What will we do when we get to 100 bushels per acre three to five years down the road?” he said.
There will be new challenges with more residue. He wonders what changes will need to be made to combines, whether will there be long lines at elevators, and how the big crops will get to market.
“Sounds like good problems to have,” another panelist replied.
This year to answer more questions for soybean farmers, the Illinois Soybean Association has introduced new soybean plots for long-term studies at the Farm Progress Show site.
“It’s a fresh start right out of sod,” said Abigail Peterson, ISA’s director of agronomy and a Certified Crop Adviser.
This year it is all soybeans, but in the future, the plots will be rotated with wheat and corn. The plots are looking at five components this year — integrated pest management, soil science, weed science, soybean cyst nematode and cover crops.
The cover crop plots were all planted 30 days before the show to give an example of how much they might grow after harvest.
In one soybean plot where no chemicals were added to help soybeans with stress, there is noticeable insect damage with Japanese beetle among the culprits. It gives way to a discussion on scouting. Handouts include a defoliation reference guide.
The plots here give farmers a chance to see non-biased research, Peterson said. It is small scale here, but part of larger projects ISA is working with in conjunction with Illinois universities, community colleges, retail agronomists, Extension and farmers, she said.