For the Boerema family of Hyde County, N.C., finding ways to achieve top yields in soybean production is job one.
“Our philosophy is to make it on the yield end of things rather than the cost cutting end of things,” explains Isaac Boerema, who has been farming with his dad Edward Boerema and uncle Dennis Boerema since 2003. “It’s worked well for us in the past and it continues to be our focus. We work to produce the most yield we can in the most efficient way possible for each acre.”
In addition to soybeans, the Boeremas farm wheat and corn their farm near Pantego that was started by Isaac’s grandfather, Gerrit Boerema in 1958.
To achieve maximum soybean yields and grow profits in soybeans, the family uses a systematic approach. “You have to build it piece by piece and the system changes over time. We don’t do things the same way we did five, 10 or 15 years ago,” Boerema explains.
As Boerema sees it, this systematic approach is like a big puzzle, with varietal selection, fertility management, disease and pest control as well as seeding rates each forming important pieces of the puzzle. “Each piece of the system has to work together. That is key. Our goal is to improve our yields year on year,” Boerema says.
This systematic approach begins with varietal selection.
The Boerema's strategy is to turn to early season varieties and plant as early as possible, usually in late April. “Early maturity varieties have a higher yield potential and we find ways to make them work for us,” Boerema says. “We’ve been able to achieve yields in the 70s consistently. This isn’t our whole farm average, but in our higher yielding areas we are able to get yields in the 70 bushel range fairly consistently.”
Next, Boerema says, the goal is to achieve yields in the 80 bushel range consistently and after that find ways to achieve yields in the 90 bushel range with the goal to eventually get to 100 bushels per acre. “That’s the progression we are working on, and I think we will get there eventually. It’s not an overnight thing. It will take time. The challenge is to figure out what works but what works profitably,” Boerema notes.
Boerema believes a strategy of using Group 3 soybeans and planting in April is critical. “This approach works because soybean plants are daylight sensitive, and June 21st is the longest day of the year, so how you match the maturity to give the plant the maximum amount of sunlight makes a difference, just as it does for corn. You need to give that soybean plant as much sunshine as possible.”
Another key piece of the Boerema’s strategy puzzle is fertility management. The goal is to treat the soybeans just like any other crop.
“If you’re talking about wheat, corn or cotton, you’re not going out there making them work hard and scavenge for nutrients. Soybeans are the same. You want to keep your fertility up in the soil,” Boerema says. “You don’t want to push the nitrogen fertility up to much because of lodging, and just because you grow a big, bushy bean plant doesn’t mean you’re going to get the best yields.”
The key, he says, is to manage early season growth. The Boeremas do add some nitrogen, but adding phosphorous, potassium and looking at the micronutrients is equally important. The Boeremas rely on the standard practice of soil sampling every other year to determine what nutrients the plant needs.
“We want the nutrients to be available for each crop, and we find that applying fertilizers to each crop is the way to go,” he says. “We’re going to give this crop what it needs and we’re going to give the next crop what it needs when it needs it.”
For their pre-planting fertility program, the family uses a compost of chicken litter from a nearby egg farm with nitrogen, potassium and potash and a mix of micronutrients all being important elements of the compost.
Controls soil fertility and plant nutrition
“The nutritional side of things certainly matters,” Boerema says. “We’re hurting ourselves if we allow nutrition to be a yield limiting factor. There are so many things that we can’t control, but soil fertility and plant nutrition is one of those things that we can control.”
Reduced seeding rates and relying on 22 inch rows for both corn and soybeans is also an important part of the family’s strategy for achieving top yields. “We were able to lower our seeding rates to avoid lodging, and it’s also a good cost savings for us because soybean seeds keep going higher and higher,” Boerema says.
For their double crop soybeans, the Boeremas plant 105,000 to 125,000 seeds per acre, which is a fairly low rate. For their full season soybeans, they will plant 90,000 to 105,000 seeds per acre, depending on planting date.
“We can gamble a little bit more with full season beans when it comes to seeding rates because sometimes we have to go back in and repair a stand. But for double crop beans, it has to be right the first time. We don’t want to come back in July and find out we don’t have enough plants, so we will push the population up a little bit,” Boerema explains.
For weed control, a pre-emergence treatment is critical for their full season beans. “We want to start clean and we have a zero tolerance policy,” Boerema says. “Once the beans are out of the ground, your options for resistant weeds are quite limited and pre-emergence herbicides are a big help.”
As for their double crop soybeans, the family does not use pre-emergence herbicides because if they’ve had a good wheat crop, they have good ground cover, and are in a good place for weed control.
For insect control, integrated pest management is critical, Boerema says “IPM is a good way to control costs because you’re not applying more pesticides than you need. It’s important to target specific pests.”
Fungicides are also critical, particularly for their double crop soybeans. “All of our double crop beans go for seed and we like to use fungicides to improve seed quality. We get better quality when we use a fungicide,” he explains.
Boerema adds that a lower plant population also helps them fight disease because it allows more air movement around the plants and keeps photosynthesis going as long as possible.
In addition, no- till has worked well for the family’s soybean and corn acreage. “We are going to be 100 percent no-till on our beans this year,” Boerema explains. “We do use conventional tillage for land forming and shaping, to get the land where we want it to be.”
As for wheat, no- till is not an option because it is hard to good stand establishment and early season growth. The family turns to no-till when they plant soybeans following wheat and corn following soybeans.
Boerema serves as chairman of the North Carolina Soybean Producers Association Research Committee. The association is committed to achieving top yields across the state and is working closely with Jim Dunphy, the North Carolina State University Extension soybean specialist, and other N.C. State scientists to find ways to build yields in each soybean producing region.
“The Research Committee is looking at ways to increase the state yield average. The goal is to increase profitability for all soybean growers. Cutting costs is certainly one way to grow profits, but another way to cut costs is to increase yields because the cost per bushel goes down the more bushels you produce.”
Boerema points out that the production practices his family uses to achieve top yields and grow profits are not unique. “Other farmers are doing the same thing and are enjoying success as well,” he says.