Soybean secrets

Last summer, I visited several winners of the 2011 South Dakota soybean yield contest to learn their secrets to high soybean yields.

Soybean secrets

Last summer, I visited several winners of the 2011 South Dakota soybean yield contest to learn their secrets to high soybean yields.

Dick Nissen, Vermillion, S.D., won his nonirrigated maturity division with a 67-bushel-per-acre yield. He says good soil drainage, no-till and soil health provide the foundation for high soybean yields on his farm.

He hopes to hit 70 bushels per acre in the next year or two.

Doug Koenig, Fairfax, S.D., won his nonirrigated maturity division with a 70-bushel-per-acre yield. Fairfax is west of the Missouri River in south-central South Dakota. You wouldn’t expect one of the state’s highest soybean yields to come from there.

Key Points

• A good foundation sets soybeans up for high yields.

• Contest winners focus on drainage, fertility and soil health.

• They match varieties to fields to achieve the maximum yield.


“The piece of ground was pretty good, which is proof that soybeans can be a winner just about anywhere,” Koenig says.

Nissen’s story

Nissen farms along the Vermillion River in southeast South Dakota. His rich river bottomland has good internal drainage. He has tiled his upland fields.

Nissen has no-tilled his whole farm since 1997. No-till conserves soil moisture, increases organic matter and supports microbial life in the soil for soil health and high yield potential.

Nissen grows corn, soybeans and winter wheat in a three-year rotation and plants a cover crop after winter wheat. He plans to try planting a cover crop in growing corn and soybeans, too, so that he can have live growing roots in the soil as long as possible, even after harvesting row crops.

Nissen pays attention to all the little details that can improve soybean yields.

He aims to get the right varieties for his land. His long-term favorite is Prairie Brand 2419.

He makes sure soybeans have lots of phosphorus by applying a 20-60-40-20 blend of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and sulfur. Centerville Ag broadcasts the fertilizer for him each fall. He does not incorporate it.

He’s careful to select herbicides that are gentle on the plants, and he applies insecticides and fungicides when warranted to keep insects and diseases from stressing the plants. “I trust my suppliers on a lot of these things,” he says. “I have got a pretty good team.”

Nissen’s goal is to produce 70-bushel-per-acre beans. “I’m working on it,” he says.

Nissen thinks he can get to the next level by building up soil fertility, further improving the health of the soil with more cover crops in the rotation and planting the very best seed available.

“My seed guy has a new Prairie Brand variety this year that he thinks will get me to 70,” Nissen says. “If we get rain, it might happen.”

Koenig’s pick

Koenig’s first-place entry in the 2011 contest came on a 20-acre piece of ground that used to be a pasture. It had produced 213 bushels per acre of corn the year before. A Pioneer seed dealer, Koenig picked what he says is a tried-and-true top yielder for highly productive soils in the region, Pioneer 93M11, to plant on the rich plot of land. His cousin, Dan Koenig, who custom farms the ground for him, seeded 160,000 seeds per acre in 22-inch rows.

“We had perfect conditions in 2011,” Doug Koenig recalls, “and the fertility was very high.”

Koenig credits his cousin with doing a perfect job of planting and spraying the crop. Koenig doesn’t farm himself. His family operates a lumberyard. But three years ago when DuPont Pioneer was looking for a seed dealer in the area, he got hooked. He had helped his cousin do fieldwork and was always interested in agronomy.

Koenig has focused on finding the right soybeans to fit his customers.“It’s important to match up soybean varieties to your type of ground,” he says. “There are beans that are better for the more productive ground and beans that are better for tougher ground.”

Unless it begins raining in March or April and rains most of that period, Koenig says he’ll probably plant one of the more drought-tolerant varieties. There are varieties that can yield 30 bushels per acre in his area with very little water, he says. Some of his customers are talking about cutting back on plant populations to give the plant more area to draw water from.

“Every year is different. Picking the winner in a tough year is important, too,” he says.

Rain, any way you can get it, is good thing

Even though it was extremely dry and most soybeans in his area yielded about 20 bushels per acre, Dick Nissen averaged 62 bushels an acre in a field along the Vermillion River in 2012, thanks to a 10-inch rain that fell in May more than 100 miles away.

When the runoff entered the river, the channel wasn’t big enough to hold it. The short-lived flood covered Nissen’s river bottomland and delayed planting. But enough of the excess water soaked into the soil that soybeans yielded 62 bushels per acre, even though only 1.6 inches of rain actually fell during the growing season. Nissen didn’t work the ground before he planted. He no-tilled into the stubble. The residue on the soil surface reduced evaporation, too. — Lon Tonneson


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WINNING PICK: Doug Koenig, a Pioneer seed dealer, found a sweet spot for his 2011 soybean yield contest win.

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TEAMWORK: Dick Nissen (right) talks with Dennis Maiers, a Prairie Brand seed dealer, about new soybean varieties.

This article published in the February, 2013 edition of DAKOTA FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2013.

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