The number is an eye-popping 100.78. The farmer that etched his name in the record books is Nelson Crow.
“The guys at the scales knew what was going on,” says Crow, the first Arkansas soybean farmer to break the 100-bushel-per-acre barrier. “I was sitting there, doing the math in my head — ‘Man, this is going to be close.’ I was as nervous as I’ve been in a long time.”
One of Crow’s longtime friends, Brad Koen of BASF, was alongside. “We were wide-eyed, waiting, fidgeting. It was almost like waiting for a child to be born.”
Quick, scribbled calculations confirmed the figure. Many high-fives and much whooping ensued.
In the aftermath, everyone wants to know Crow’s secret for success. His list of ingredients for the recipe isn’t long.
• Precise management.
• Great growing season weather.
• Pioneer 93Y92, a 3.9.
The field was originally supposed to be planted in a brand-new Terral variety, an indeterminate 5.1, says Crow, who farms just west of Winchester in southeast Arkansas. “But the seed supplier didn’t have that bean in and the 93Y92 was sitting there. So, we took it, planted it and the rest is history.”
The fact the record was broken with a Group 3 is unusual for the area, says Koen. “We have had some good luck with 3s on Nelson’s farm in the past and he wanted to try some more.
“One of the reasons they’re tough to grow is the plant cycles through growth stages so quickly. A 3.9 is a sprinter. In order to get the right plant height and fruit set, you’ve really got to manage it and water timely. Management has to be on-key and Nelson — along with his consultant Rick Deviney — does a really good job.
“You can’t put a lot of acres in 3s because it’s so hard to manage. But you can put it on a small acreage and it’s a good option because you can start harvesting soybeans earlier and spread the harvest out.”
Crow cautions that “when 3s are ready, they’re ready. They’ll shatter in a heartbeat, so you’ve got to be ready to move on them.
“(Pioneer’s) William Johnson told me to plant the variety at the end of April if yield is what you want. If you can get it in, it’ll get enough height to yield really well.”
The variety was planted on a sandy loam.
“Don’t plant this bean on heavy soils,” says Crow. “Fifty-seven days after emergence start irrigating. Don’t wait on rains. It’s critical to stay on top of the irrigation. Make sure that pipe is rolled out and waiting to go.”
The 3.9s were planted on April 24 in a field that was in corn in 2012.
“There’s about a three-week period to plant these beans to get them to an optimum place,” says Crow. “So, if you miss the window — the last two weeks of April through the first week of May — look to another variety. I’ve intended to plant these beans before but we had a couple of rains and had to go with another variety.
“But we got them planted on 30-inch, single-row beds at 145,000 plants per acre. The temperatures stayed cool and they really began looking good very fast.”
What about the weed-control program?
“We actually burned down last October/first of November with two ounces of Sharpen and 22 ounces of PowerMax,” says Koen. “That worked incredibly well and there was a lot of vegetation out there.”
Crow agrees. “It really did keep the ground clean. In fact, it worked so well that we had to re-bed the field before we could plant. The winter rains washed the beds down.”
Crow was able to plant with no herbicide spraying.
“The season was so cool and wet, we had winter annuals still coming up in April,” says Koen. “That’s odd for here. We applied 2 ounces of Zidua with PowerMax at the V3 stage. If we’d put some Scepter out with Zidua, we probably would never have had to spray again. But we did have a bit of morning-glory show up about four weeks later. Nelson has a lay-by rig, so he got under the canopy with PowerMax and Flexstar to take those morning-glories out.”
When the field was harvested, there wasn’t a weed anywhere, says Crow.
Insect pressure was also low all season. At R2, when the beans first start flowering, Crow sprayed 4 ounces of Priaxor, a fungicide. He used 1 pound of non-food grade table sugar as an additive — a little trick picked up from Missouri yield-king Kip Cullers.
“That worked really well as a sticker,” says Koen. “We’ve dabbled with using sugar in the past. It just looks like brown sugar.”
At R2 there was no insect pressure. About two-and-a-half weeks later, Crow came back with another 4 ounces of Priaxor for a sequential fungicide application.
“That was put out with another pound of sugar along with a CPS product, N-Pact, that’s a slow-release nitrogen foliar feed,” says Crow.
Also in the R2 mix: 100 pounds of nitrogen. “That’s not typical for us — we were just trying to see what would happen.”
At that time, the pests in the field — alfalfa hoppers and a few foliage feeders — weren’t at threshold. Still, “we ran 3.8 ounces of FasTac, a new BASF pyrethroid, just to make sure we kept the area clean,” says Koen. “We didn’t want any pressures.”
At R6, late in the season, the field did reach treatment levels for stinkbugs and Crow ran 1 pound of acephate.
The 100-bushel soybeans were harvested in a 40-acre block of a 200-acre field. The other 160 acres averaged 85 bushels.
“That’s still a great yield,” says Crow. “But that 40 acres had plants that were healthier, they kept leaves on five or six days longer. They looked greener.
“It’s hard to put your finger on it, but I think that second shot of fungicide in combination with the cool temperatures really bumped the yields. Truth is, we weren’t even planning on trying for the yield trial. If that was the plan, I should have put (molybdenum) on the seed since the field has a relatively low pH. I think we left some yield on the table, actually.”
Koen points to the importance of fungicides. “A while back, fungicides were used mainly on seed beans. The seed companies didn’t require it but highly recommended it because it improved seed quality.
“As a consultant in those days, we got to noticing the seed beans were out-yielding the production beans. We were getting a pretty good yield bump from the fungicides.”
What was learned from the seed bean business “is even in the absence of visual disease, we can improve soybeans by optimizing plant health.”
Crow credits BASF’s Priaxor, a combination of Headline and Xemium. Xemium, he says, “is really good on aerial web blight. With Headline able to work on frogeye, Priaxor deals with two of the toughest soybean diseases we deal with.”
He also says another benefit of Priaxor is after application the canopy is actually cooler than without the product. “That’s a huge deal. If we can keep the canopy cooler, it’s worth spraying just for that benefit. Keeping the plants cooler means extra yield.”
Crow’s farm contains a wide range of soils but “that 200 acres are some of the best on the farm. We used to harvest three-bale cotton on it.”
As for the Pioneer variety, “we’ve actually grown 80-bushel beans with it before. I knew it would do well, although the 100 bushels was a surprise. Turned out, we had three-bean pods from the bottom of the plants all the way to the top. I didn’t see one-bean or two-bean pods on any of those plants. And clusters of seven or eight pods were consistent. It was amazing!”
Irrigation was also key, says Koen. “We deal with operations that have trouble getting irrigation right. Some water too much, some not enough, some have a hard time getting water on and off a field. You know, getting water on and off is almost as important as irrigation frequency. A bean can’t sit in water.”
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Bitten by the big-yield bug, Crow vows to try something similar next year.
“I’ve been thinking about what to do. What varieties? What fields to plant? Maybe try using some chicken litter like Kip Cullers up in Missouri?
“Of course, I’ll plant this Pioneer variety again. I’d love to just be consistent with such high yields and I’m considering what fields to try this on.”