Fred Below shares the six secrets of soybean success

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Fred Below, Ph.D., Professor of Crop Physiology, University of Illinois, and AJ Woodyard, technical crop production specialist, BASF, shared their latest data about how farmers can nearly double their yields with a comprehensive pest management plan, during an educational session titled “Six Secrets of Soybeans Revealed,” at Commodity Classic.

While both Below and BASF conducted research independent of each other, their results were very similar: growers can maximize yields by using a comprehensive agronomic management program featuring a combination of herbicides, fungicides and insecticides.

“Comprehensive pest-management solutions are delivering exponential yield improvements and dramatically changing the odds in favor of farmers,” said Woodyard, who summarized recent BASF research.

Woodyard highlighted studies that consisted of a combination treatment of BASF herbicides and fungicides in corn, and BASF herbicides, fungicides and insecticides in soybeans, and compared their effectiveness to a glyphosate-based control program. Results revealed soybean yields increased by an average of 6.0 bu/A over the glyphosate-only program.1  

According to Below, the current average soybean yield in the U.S. is roughly 42 bu/A, and has been hovering around that figure for the past few years.

“While it may seem daunting, the quest for 85.0 bu/A isn’t a stretch. Yields of this nature are produced each year in state contests, so we know it can be done,” Below said. “The trick is figuring out how to consistently produce these yield levels, and our research has identified six strategies to help accomplish this task.”

In 2012, Below and his team at the University of Illinois set up multi-location trials in their home state to analyze the value of management factors that contribute to soybean yield.2  What they discovered were six “secrets” that are critical for achieving high yield goals:

1. Weather: While weather is out of anyone’s control, Below’s team found that it influences the success of all other management factors. Management practices that promote strong root development, such as fertility, enhanced seed emergence and disease control, may help mitigate its negative effects.  

2. Improve soil fertility: Below believes that soil fertility is one of the most important, yet often overlooked components of high yield soybean production. Improved soil fertility can be managed through balanced crop nutrition and fertilizer placement technologies. Below’s 2012 research revealed an additional 4.3bu/A with this secret.  

3. Maximize genetic yield potential: Similar to corn hybrids, Below believes that proper selection of soybean varieties is crucial for success in a management intensive, high yield production system. Below’s 2012 research revealed an additional 3.2 bu/A with this secret. 

4. Protect yield potential and maximize seed size: “Disease and insect control is imperative for producing any crop,” Below said. “By using a combination of a fungicide and insecticide, critical soybean leaf area is maintained for intercepting sunlight and maximizing seed fill.” Below’s 2012 research revealed an additional 3.6 bu/A with this secret.  

5. Enhance seed emergence and vigor: Through the use of fungicidal, insecticidal and plant growth regulator seed treatments, early season growth and vigor will be protected from yield robbing stresses such as disease and insects. Below’s 2012 research revealed an additional 2.6 bu/A with this secret.  

6. Utilize narrow row spacing: Below believes there are distinct advantages to planting narrow rows, specifically 20 inch rows. This would allow precision fertilizer placement in a corn-soybean rotation. “Planting soybean on these same rows might take advantage of the previous year’s corn fertility practices. Furthermore, 20 inch rows improve light interception and ultimately provide a good foundation for maximizing yields,” he said. Below’s 2012 research revealed an additional 2.1 bu/A with this secret.

Woodyard suggests that growers interested in high-yield soybean production should put together a season-long road map for their acres. “Early in the season, growers should set aside time to develop a full-season plan on how they’re going to get the most out of every acre,” said Woodyard.

For more information on Below and his research, visit   

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