Soybean South

 - PLANTING CHOICES -

Small Fields Net Big Dividends

Tennessee farmer cashes in on small dryland fields. 

 

Moore Farms near West Port, Tenn., is a 4,500-acre soybean/corn/wheat operation, comprising 70 fields that average 30 acres – though some are larger – all located within a 35-mile area. These small fields paid big dividends in 2005; the farm’s 2,400 acres of non-irrigated soybeans averaged 52 bushels per acre.

“With our inputs and different soil types, we expect 40 bushels per acre in a normal year,” says Phillip Moore. “For the past three or four years, we have averaged between 45 and 50 bushels. Last season we were concerned about the crop because of several spells of dry weather. However, we caught some timely rains and ended with a 52-bushel average, which is great for us since our soil types vary so much.”

Moore Farms has been expanding for several years, picking up marginal hill ground – some of it former cattle farms. Farming no-till and rotating yearly help build organic matter on the operation, which is 95 percent no-till.

“The only time we work up ground is when we have to smooth rutted fields,” Moore says. “Some of our fields have not had a disk or any type of cultivation in them for about 18 to 20 years.

“To make new ground more productive – and to keep our older fields that way – we also rotate yearly and raise the fertility to the optimum level. We pull soil samples and apply fertilizer according to resulting recommendations.”

In recent years, Moore moved from planting pounds per acre to beans per acre because of varying seed size. “Our yields began going up when we started placing our beans,” he adds. “We shoot for a final plant population somewhere between 175,000 and 180,000 plants per acre. We aim for a bean every two inches on 15-inch rows.

“We also prefer planting soybeans instead of drilling them. We switched from 7.5-inch spacings to 15-inch rows. We get a more uniform stand on 15-inch rows than we get on 7.5-inch drills.”

Moore normally starts planting the last week in April and tries to finish by the first of June. In 2005, he completed planting on May 23. He plants Group IVs first and starts planting Group IIIs in his bottomland the first or second week of May.

He plants 100 percent Roundup Ready soybeans treated with Apron Maxx. He burns down with glyphosate immediately behind the planter and comes back three to four weeks later to make another glyphosate application. He normally can wrap up his weed control with one glyphosate post-application.

Shift in variety maturity
A severe drought in 1999 caused a variety maturity shift on Moore Farms. “We used to plant mostly Group V beans and that year we had fields that yielded 15 bushels per acre,” Moore says. “They shut off when the weather stayed so dry. So we started moving to earlier maturing varieties to try to beat the dry weather. We eased into more Group IVs and Group IIIs and now we’re predominantly Group IVs, with about 30 percent of the crop in Group IIIs. Last season, we also planted about 75 acres of an indeterminate Group V variety that’s good for wheat beans.”

Moore’s soil types vary greatly so he selects soybean varieties according to soil types, which has really improved his yields. “For example, on some of our thinner ground or sandy loam ground, we go with DK 4967 RR,” he says. “We get a little better height out of it and it has a little more drought tolerance. We plant DK 4461 RR on our better ground, and our Group IIIs in the bottoms. We like DK 3968 RR – in 2004, some fields of it cut 75 bushels per acre.”

Moore normally plants eight or nine varieties. He plants most of his soybean acreage to a few varieties that have consistently yielded well on his farm, and always looking ahead, tries several new varieties every year.

“We constantly look at different varieties, but if we have something working, we stay with it pretty much until something better comes along,” he adds. “A variety will only stay around four or five years and then we need to replace it with something else.

“About 85 percent of our soybeans are planted to Delta King varieties. We were one of the first in the area to plant Delta King – we tried them in 2000. We went to them when we started planting earlier maturing varieties – the Group IVs and some Group IIIs.

“Delta King is a good product that sells itself; it consistently performs on our farm. Their varieties have consistently yielded better than most of the other varieties that we plant. Their varieties also offer a good disease package. The Delta King varieties we’ve been planting have been tolerant of our main diseases: frogeye leaf spot, stem canker and sudden death syndrome. They also fit our soil types, and they stand up well and don’t lodge, especially DK 4967 RR.

“We are real impressed with DK 4967 RR, which has great adaptability – it grows well on good ground and on thinner marginal ground. It’s a real good bean. We also tried some DK 4866 RR, a new variety, last year and it did well for us.”

Moore normally participates in university and private company variety trials and conducted three soybean test plots in 2005. Last year’s university test on his farm included 23 different varieties.

“I like trying new varieties, even if it’s only a few bags at a time, just to see how a variety performs on my farm,” he says. “We run many side-by-side variety comparisons; we’ll split up our planter units and plant half of one variety and half of another.

“We watch university tests yearly and if a variety consistently appears in the top three to five finishers, we give it a try. However, an on-farm test is the best test since everybody’s ground and practices are different. When university trial data and our on-farm trial data match up, we know we have a winner.”

Preventative application
Moore tried fungicides on soybeans in the past on a trial basis. Because of the threat of soybean rust, he decided to apply a preventative fungicide application of Quilt on all his soybeans last year. Although soybean rust fortunately never appeared in his area in 2005, Moore feels the fungicide treatment still benefited his crop.

“The application helped keep the plants healthier longer,” he explains. “Our beans didn’t shatter at harvest even as dry as it was last fall. We’ll probably include a fungicide treatment as part of our over-all program as a preventative for rust and to keep our plants healthier.”

Moore performs most of his marketing. He markets with Cargill, whose closest elevator is 35 miles away from his operation. He recently began using option strategies more. For example, by June last year, he was 50 percent sold on beans and corn. On-farm storage facilities that include 10 bins give him flexibility in his marketing strategies.

“I’m concentrating more on marketing,” he adds. “We know we can produce a crop if we get the rain. However, if we miss 30 to 40 cents on corn and 60 or 70 cents on beans, we’ve lost $200,000 before we turn around.”

Delta King Seed Company contributed information for this article.


Phillip Moore’s Steps To Success

• Select varieties according to soil types

• Plant predominantly earlier maturing varieties

• No-till to build organic matter (and save fuel/labor)

• Apply fertilizer according to soil sample results

• Make a preventative fungicide application

• Conduct on-farm variety testing

• Plant on 15-inch spacings

• Rotate yearly

• Timely rains