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Smart Soybeans Mean Better Yield, Profit
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Several Mississippi farmers have made smart management changes and increased their average yields by more than 14 bushels an acre.
At $7 a bushel, that increases income by almost $100 an acre. If half of the state's 2 million soybean acres saw this increase, soybean income would rise about $100 million annually.
Since 1992, the Soybean Management by Application of Research and Technology (SMART) program has worked to improve yields in Mississippi. SMART links farmers with extension specialists and researchers for better managed soybean fields resulting in increased profits.
Dr. Alan Blaine, Mississippi State University extension soybean specialist, said from 1992 to 1996 the state average soybean yields were 28 bushels per acre. The 58 SMART fields yielded 42 bushels an acre during this period.
"With the SMART program, we're trying to show soybean farmers they can increase yields and profit potential by using the latest technology," Blaine said. The program matches variety, weed control and planting systems with each field.
"I hear all the time about break-even, but we've got to make money on soybeans by spending less and producing higher yields," Blaine said.
Floyd Anderson Jr., a soybean producer in Inverness, participated in the program in 1995 and 1996. His SMART plot was a rented 165-acre field that was very weedy, not irrigated and hard to work with because of two big TV towers in the field.
"I was not satisfied with the yields," Anderson said, estimating previous harvests brought in 15 to 20 bushels an acre.
The SMART recommendation for his field was that he plant no-till soybeans. After applying a burn-down herbicide, Anderson planted his soybeans as recommended.
"I was surprised that we planted it as rough as we did and still got a good stand of beans," Anderson said. Once growing, he applied overhead herbicides twice, but did not irrigate.
The first year in the program, the field yielded about 32 bushels an acre. In 1996, Anderson followed a similar plan, with the addition of a subsoil operation, and got 43 bushels an acre.
"The program saved me money by cutting trips across the field, and increased productivity tremendously," Anderson said. "My bottom line is a whole lot better because of the program."
Blaine said the SMART program emphasizes choosing good varieties, planting on time and scouting at the right time. Irrigation, if used, is carefully scheduled.
"We feel the biggest input we have provided is variety selection," Blaine said. "Variety selection is totally within a producer's control, and I think our growers are doing a better job picking varieties than they have done in the past."
Management practices for each SMART field attempt to reflect the latest research technologies, but do not guarantee success. Recommendations are based on previous production problems, production history, field scouting, soil samples and the producer's concerns.
This year, 24 fields are enrolled in the SMART program. Each typically rotates out after two years so others can join. Program coordinators and county agents visit each field at least once a week to check on progress and make recommendations as needed.
After producers leave the program, coordinators hope they will continue to use the practices they have learned.
"The program showed me what I could do with my 165-acre SMART field, and I applied it to 1,500 other acres this year," Anderson said.
Dr. Rodney Foil, vice president for agriculture, forestry and veterinary medicine at MSU, said the SMART program, funded by the Mississippi Soybean Promotion Board, is one of the university's better efforts this decade.
"When groups such as the Soybean Promotion Board and our research and extension faculty join forces, we can achieve significant production and economic gains," Foil said. "All of the farmers, researchers and faculty who have been a part of the SMART program should be commended for their efforts to improve Mississippi's soybean production and profits."