Joey Norman wanted higher soybean yields, so he tried something

Joey Norman wanted higher soybean yields, so he tried something

Georgia farmer Joey Norman used what is called an early production system soybean, or EPSS, using indeterminate soybean varieties on part of his crop this year.      

Joey Norman managed part of his soybean crop a little differently this year. Though the outcome was mixed, Norman’s happy with the results.

Norman farms in Tattnall County located in east Georgia about 80 miles from the coast. On part of his soybean acreage this year, he used what is called an early production system soybean, or EPSS, using indeterminate varieties, a soybean-growing system not typically done in the Southeast where determinate varieties are more widely used. But EPSS is drawing interest from some growers.

(Editor’s note: This is part one of two-part series “Growing soybeans differently in the Southeast."

Norman tried indeterminate soybeans once before back in the early 1980s for a few years. At the time he grew them to get the beans planted early and pulled by late July or August so he could plant rye in September for cattle. “Then I tried some indeterminates last year on a limited dryland basis, and they did in the 60-bushel range,” Norman said.

His beans have averaged in 70-bushel range across the farm without using indeterminate varieties or the EPSS. “And last year we picked 87 bushels (average) on some determinate beans planted in June,” said Norman. “This year we did the higher-yield effort (with EPSS), and it was fairly satisfying, but we had some weather issues that did hamper the outcome.”

Norman grows about 500 acres of cotton, corn and soybean and has four chicken houses. Chicken litter is a major player on his farm. Half of his row-crop acreage was in soybean this year, largely due to low cotton prices.

To test the EPSS this year, Norman planted 18 acres of the Southern States 4917N R2 variety, an indeterminate variety, and four indeterminate Pioneer varieties on 12 acres. All varieties were in the mid-4 maturity group. All were planted under irrigation, which he said, is key. He had good rain this year but still had to irrigate pretty heavy during a three-week period when the beans required 3 inches of water per week for the high-yield program.

Storm hits chest-high beans

Three weeks before harvest in September and before he desiccated the beans, though, a storm hit his EPSS beans, which were about chest-high at the time. Most of the Southern States beans blew down or folded over and lost photosynthesis potential because of it, he said, and the Southern State beans cut out, not producing anymore.

The blown-down Southern State beans hit 82 bushels per acre with test weight of 51 pounds. The Pioneer varieties, he said, did well despite the storm setback and averaged 88 bushels per acre “but Pioneer beans weren’t blown down as bad from the storm,” he said.

All the varieties were harvested at about 13 percent moisture and received no deductions. He says he would have gotten premium pricing for his September harvested beans, but he had already contracted them when the market was above $10 a bushel. September prices were around $8.50 per bushel.

Across his soybean acreage this year -- including the beans he planned to harvest the last week in November -- Norman is looking at an 80-bushel per acre average.

And with the early system, he has another idea: Due to a wet spring, Norman wasn’t able to plant his early beans until May 5. Next year, he hopes to get them planted by mid-April or earlier “because if we can get them to come up in April, we can harvest in mid-August and I can squeak in a second crop of beans.”

Norman said, in his case, he likely could have saved $100 per acre on “store-bought” fertilizer, which he applied to the EPSS based on the fertilizer recommended by Southern States. For him, the additional fertilizer wasn’t needed because he has been an ardent user of chicken litter for two decades. His fields are banked full with good fertility and his soils have an organic matter of 3 percent.

He says his historic use of chicken litter likely makes his scenario a little different than most. “When I use chicken litter, I spread 2.5 to 3 tons (per acre) and have used as much 6 tons per acre on corn,” he said.

Chris Tyson, University of Georgia Extension agent in Tattnall County, assisted Norman:

“Growers have different goals when it comes to soybeans. We work to help them meet those goals, and, in this case (with Norman), we were going for higher-yield beans. … Working with the indeterminate beans has been a learning experience for me this year, but I think it will be a good thing.  Growers have to have a different mindset going into high-yield, indeterminate beans as opposed to the traditional ‘poverty peas.’ I think we may see more of it in the future, especially if cotton, corn and peanut prices remain unprofitable,” Tyson said.

EPSS is not a new practice. It’s been around for decades, but it has been more widely used in recent years by growers in the MidSouth to reach higher yields.

“Yes, I recommend the early system. It’s doable and works. I plan to plant more with it next year than I did this year,” said Norman, who added that system does have a 100-bushel average potential on his farm.

Georgia is not a major soybean-producing state, but production is expected to be more than 14 million bushels this year, up 20 percent from 2014. Georgia growers are on track to hit a record 44-bushel per acre average this year.

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