An early start means an early finish for soybean producers Don and Jimbo Davis, Tippo, Miss. That is why every one of their 3,000 soybean acres this year will be planted in Group 4s, ranging in maturity from 4.4 to 4.9.
“This is the third year that we have had all Group 4s,” Don said on a recent sunny March morning, taking a break from preparing a field for soybean planting. “When we had Group 5s, August used to be a big month for us, and we would pray for rain. We’re also trying to beat the Asian rust and other diseases with the Group 4s. With Group 4s, we get to July 4, and we don’t have to worry about it.”
That’s a far cry from the old way of producing soybeans. “I’ve been farming soybeans since 1982,” Don said. “At that time, the county average soybean yield was 23 to 25 bushels. We used to plant cotton before we even thought about planting any beans.”
The Davises used to plant “a lot of Group 5s and Group 6s. The worms would eat them up. We also had to use all the pre-emerge products, then disk and till. We gradually got away from all that. Now those days are gone.”
Their soybean farm today is an efficient, timely no-till operation that averages around 40 bushels per acre, all dryland.
No-till has not only added bushels, but taken a lot of the headache away from farming, Don says. “We used to be in the mud in the fall. Now, if it doesn’t rain, it’s slick as a whistle. We’ll just spray it and go again. We have some fields that have been on the same rows for eight years.
“Ninty percent of our soybeans this year will be no-till,” the producer said. The exception is where cotton ground is disked down to plant soybeans, which is keeping them busy this spring. The Davises, who traditionally plant about 600 acres of cotton, are cutting back by 140 acres. “Fuel and fertilizer costs are terrible. I bought a transport-load of fuel this morning for $1.99 a gallon,” Don explained.
No-till and Roundup Ready soybeans lets the brothers keep trips across the field and diesel costs to a minimum. “We apply a quart of Roundup and a pint of 2,4-D at burndown. We plant and go back in two to three weeks with another quart of Roundup. That’s followed about two weeks later with Roundup at 1.5 pints.”
The brothers can’t afford to get behind in field work or planting. “This spring we hired an airplane to put out our burndown herbicide on about 2,000 acres. I don’t mind the extra expense. We found out over the years that if you don’t get it done on time, you’ll miss those little spring rains.”
The farm soil types range from good sandy loam to buckshot. “If it’s dry and ready to plant, we try to plant our earliest beans on the buckshot.”
Weather permitting, the Davises are changing their planting date this year, moving it from April 1 to March 25. They plant all Delta King Roundup Ready varieties, DK 4466, DK 4966, DK 4866 and DK 4667. Seed is treated with Apron Max at the local co-op.
The producers have two 500-bushel seed carts to keep plenty of seed on hand, and three John Deere 1730 vacuum planters with 3-bushel hoppers. Soybeans are planted in 19-inch rows. “We can plant about 40 acres before we have to fill up. We hope to be through in 10 to 12 days. We can plant 300 acres a day with no problem.”
Other equipment includes four John Deere 8000 Series tractors, a John Deere 4650, a John Deere 4640 and a 6500 John Deere sprayer.
Disease and insect pressure was light in 2005, according to Don. “We’ve sprayed for stink bugs every now and then, on the advice of our entomologist, Joe Townsend. But the Group 4s can also help us get ahead of the worm pressure and stink bug pressure.”
At the end of the 2005 season, some disease did show up, but again the crop was too far along to have suffered a yield reduction. “We had some frogeye leaf spot, but it wasn’t enough to worry about. It was late enough in the year, and Joe didn’t think it would be justified to spray for it.”
That’s not to say there weren’t any problems. “We had a drought, two hurricanes and a hail storm and averaged 39.9 bushels per acre,” Don said. “The hailstorm knocked yields back on one farm.”
At harvest, the Davises run two John Deere 9610 combines. “Jimbo and I drive the two combines, our dad (Ed) drives the grain cart, and we hire our haulers. Dad always told us to work from daylight to dark, from can to can’t. He’s my ace in the hole. He’s been officially retired for 12 years. But he still likes to help out.”
The early soybean harvest also allows the Davises to get an earlier start on their cotton harvest. “Jimbo gets on the cotton picker, I get on the Boll Buggy and we hire somebody to run the module builder. Last year, we finished harvesting Oct. 15.”
The biggest advantage to soybean production for the Davises is the fact that they’re not putting a lot of money into the crop. “That’s one reason why we’re cutting back on the cotton. On soybeans, we had a couple of places we put out lime, but that was it for fertilizer. We don’t irrigate and make only about five trips across the field.
“The Group 4s have been good to us,” said Don, who has contracted 20,000 bushels for delivery in August. “That’s the reason why I’m going with the Group 4s. The days of cutting beans in December are gone.”