Soybean School: How do researchers unlock higher yields?


Does throwing the kitchen sink at your soybean crop provide an economic yield response?

The answer is a definitive “No” says University of Minnesota associate professor Seth Naeve. His conclusion is based on the the results of a huge three-year U.S. study that he shared with growers attending the Southwest Agricultural Conference in Ridgetown, Ont., earlier this month.

Naeve believes that the Cadillac management approach, including any number of combinations of seed treatments and foliar fungicides, insecticides, fertilizers and yield enhancers just doesn’t pay. Even when you dump everything on the crop, growers still only get an additional four to six bushels, depending on location, he says.

Naeve does note, however, that the kitchen clearly has two separate sinks. On one side you have “real pesticides with real modes of action” that effectively control certain insects, pests or fungi and protect yield. In the other sink are so-called yield promoters that claim to increase yield. “All the benefits come from the yield protection side,” he adds.

The study findings closely mirror research work done in Ontario by OMAFRA soybean specialist Horst Bohner. Both researchers conclude that it’s time to plug the sink, park the Caddy and look for another path to higher soybean yields. In a recent RealAgriculture Soybean School episode, Bohner said he believes the answer to future yield gain may lie in helping the plant take up more nutrients. He feels scientists and growers now have a much better understanding of the nutrients required to drive yield; the next question to answer is how do they get those nutrients into the plant.

In this interview, Naeve tells RealAgriculture’s Bernard Tobin that the big wildcard when it comes to soybean yield is water. “When that water arrives and when it’s available feeds into that nutrient question,” says Naeve. He believes soil organic matter, mineralization and water availability all play a critical role in determining the right timing for nutrient release and plant uptake.

“I do believe if we were able to irrigate and drip fertilize everything under the row, or do it with a pivot, we would have a lot of potential, but that’s not what farmers have access to and it’s not realistic.”

Back in the real word, Naeve says the best strategy is for growers to set themselves up right – that means back to basics including a strong fertility program and artificial drainage wherever you have capacity. “And once your yield potential is there, protect it.”

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