Sometimes an old technology may be the best fit for your field.
In recent years, that fact has been reinforced on much of Gary Sitzer’s soybean acreage. Sitzer, it turns out, hasn’t given up on conventional varieties.
“I farm in northeast Arkansas, on the western side of Poinsett County,” said Sitzer at the mid-January Cotton and Rice Conference in Tunica, Miss. “It’s an old rice area.”
At the beginning of his presentation Sitzer insisted he was for producer choice not against GMOs. “I want everyone to know I’m strictly talking about non-GMO, or conventional, soybeans being a choice. I’m not here to denigrate Roundup Ready or LibertyLink or anyone’s GMO.
“It’s simply a choice -- and a lot of times I think it’s the best choice for a particular situation.”
A photo of a field Sitzer farms shows land graded to a .04 slope. The levees are on four-tenths elevation. The farm has an 80-acre irrigation reservoir.
“A lot of time on our farm we must go to great depths to get the right answer to a problem,” said Sitzer while showing a photo of a scuba diver emerging from water. “When we had a control structure malfunction at the bottom of the reservoir, we had to hire a scuba diver. We do whatever it takes.”
How does Sitzer and crew farm conventional soybeans?
“This is one of my old tractors I keep around just to work in the mud,” he says pointing to another photo. In 2013, “on some of our ground, we couldn’t get into the field until the first day of summer. We couldn’t get a ground rig into it, we couldn’t burn down with an airplane. It just wasn’t a great year.”
Sitzer’s farmland got about 27 inches of rain during the 2013 growing season, from April 1 to September 1. “It was very wet year for our farm. After four tillage trips we still had duck salad.”
Sitzer began looking seriously at conventional soybeans several years ago.
“If you don’t have a variety that will work, who wants to talk any further? But there are a lot of varieties out there. I’ve primarily been growing Osage for the last several years…
“But, again, no one wants to consider conventionals unless they can compete with Roundup Ready and LibertyLink.”
Hutchinson is “an old line that has been grown for a long time. The University of Arkansas yield tests for the last few years show it yields are comparable (with GMOs). So, we’re not getting a big yield drag.”
Many are familiar with the Arkansas verification program. “That’s where the researchers’ data and recommendations are put it to work in an actual farmer’s field.”
In 2012, there were four conventional soybean fields in the program along with 15 Roundup Ready or LibertyLink fields. That year, averaging everything together, “the conventional varieties actually did better. So, there is top-end potential.
“In 2013, there was a big yield contest in Arkansas -- ‘Go for the Green.’ A conventional field was turned in for the contest, yield was certified from at least a five-acre block, and it yielded 84 bushels per acre.”
Further evidence came from a Phillips County verification field where the farmer “elected to use two varieties. One was UA4910, a conventional, as well as an Asgrow line. They both yielded the same.
“Does that tell you anything, really? Well, the Asgrow line is the same one that made 107 bushels in the ‘Race for 100’ contest in the state.”
Yields on Sitzer’s farm, “jump all over the board. My conventional soybean yields tend to drop off in odd-numbered years. The reason for that is some really bad fields come into the rotation and if there’s bad weather it beats us up.”
Tillage, saving seed, premiums
From a tillage standpoint, “conventional beans aren’t a lot different than with Roundup Ready. I’ve done it every way -- conventional till, no-till. I have not used beds since they’re hard to build on our farm.”
As for seeding rates, drills have changed a lot since Sitzer was back in high school. “But it’s still about making a trench and covering up the seed. One of the things that got me interested in conventional beans was this: on marginal fields with a rough seed bed am I better off planting at a high seeding rate?”
The best way to afford that is to use a university variety and keep your own seed, Sitzer suggested. “That way, your cost is basically market price and $2 or $3 for cleaning, storage, bagging, insurance, whatever.
“So, in adverse conditions, I can plant up to a bushel-and-a-half, at times. That’s a big advantage: keep your own seed.”
Last year, despite such poor planting conditions, the Sitzer operation still got a stand. “The seeding rate was probably 85 to 90 pounds of seed per acre on 15-inch rows. Get that much seed, that close together, and you’ll have a shot at it pushing out even in bad conditions.”
What about Sitzer’s herbicide program for conventional beans?
“You can do the same burndown used on any other crop. We didn’t get that done in 2013 so we had a PPI treatment where we could -- Dual, Treflan. We still use Scepter if we need something to pick up morning-glories. Then, we’ll come back with Select and Reflex or Flexstar.
“However, last year, we were so late on some of the fields that we reached the plant-back window for rice. So, we had to use other products -- Classic or Blazer.”
What are some of the advantages of conventional soybeans?
“I play with the numbers in many ways. Basically, the seed costs savings average about $50 to $55 per acre versus a normal seeding rate of a Roundup Ready with a seed treatment.”
There are premiums available for conventionals. “I have gotten them. Some years I do, some I don’t. I don’t plan for them. The beans go right into the market chain.
“Premiums vary. If you’re close to the river and you don’t mind storing them until after harvest, ADM has a premium market nearly every year. But you must store them. And I’m far enough away that the time value and transportation kind of eats into the bonus.”
Saving seed “is a big deal and provides flexibility, particularly with seeding rates. You can keep more seed than you think you’ll need. So, if I get into a replant situation, there can be enough seed to assure a good replanting of the same variety.
“I recommend you definitely get your seed tested for germ and accelerated aging. You need to know what’s under your control.”
It is true that when planting conventional varieties you have to worry about drift, “especially if the field is out there all by itself. Last year, on top of everything else that went wrong, we got some Roundup on our beans. Everyone did everything right -- except the loader truck didn’t flush the line. We ended up getting about two ounces per acre.”