In a classic case of the student surpassing the teacher, strip-tiller Alex Harrell of Smithville, Ga. has bested the current soybean yield record holder, Randy Dowdy. Harrell set a new world soybean yield record with an astonishing 206.7997 bushels per acre, topping Dowdy's 2019 yield of 190.23 bushels per acre.
"Randy Dowdy truly set the bar and gave me something to chase,” Harrell says. “He made me realize that it was possible to achieve record yields here in Georgia."
Harrell formulated "the perfect plan" for high yielding soybeans with his crop consultant, fellow strip-tiller Caleb Traugh of Blakely, Ga. Despite a couple heavy rainfall events, they never deviated from the plan, making only a few alterations when tissue samples revealed specific nutrient demands.
"It's a systems approach. There's no silver bullet, just a lot of good products applied at the right time, and a lot of good weather," Harrell says. "One rain event at the wrong time could've ruined it."
The Harrell farm received a packing rain shortly after planting, resulting in a final stand of 77,000. Mother Nature threw another setback at the crop with a 10-day flooding rain in early June. From there, the crop saw ideal weather the rest of the way.
"The packing rain hurt our stand off the bat, and the 15-inch rainfall over 10 days in June didn't help matters either," Harrell says. "Fortunately right after the rain it was hot and sunny, and everything dried up. We have spraying drones, so we were able to keep spraying throughout those rain events to keep the crop pumped up and growing."
Strip-till and cover crops are a crucial piece to Harrell's record-breaking formula. Harrell plants a 4-way cover crop mix of triticale, cereal rye, oats, and daikon radish in the fall. He terminates the cover crops in early spring, and then 3 weeks later he uses a Schlagel Rapid Till to make strips right over the cover crop ground in early April. He plants soybeans in 30-inch rows 1-2 days after making his strips.
RAPID-TILL: Schlagel’s Jonathan Spence sold world soybean champ Alex Harrell the strip-till machine that helped produce a 206-bushel yield. Spence explains how Rapid-Till helped Harrell break the world record. #FPS2023 #FarmProgressShow pic.twitter.com/v9UZTyDKIs— Strip-Till Farmer (@StripTillFarmr) August 31, 2023
"I've been strip-tilling for 6 years now. The combination of strip-till and cover crops has been a game changer for me," Harrell says.
To pair population and variety, Harrell and his father, Rodney, planted AG 48X9 coated in their standard practice seed treatment with the addition of BRANDT Seed Zone® Zn. As the season progressed, Harrell realized the potential of his crop. Initially predicting at least 150 bu/ac soybeans, the Georgia farmer began to understand the crop’s potential after he desiccated it and saw pod load and bean size. Still uncertain he would best Dowdy’s yield record, Harrell knew he had something special.
"I knew all year we had good soybeans. I thought they were probably 150-bushel-per-acre soybeans, but I didn't think they were much better than that mainly because I've never seen anything better than that."
After celebrating the record with his father, Harrell wanted to personally break the news to his mentor, Randy Dowdy.
"Unfortunately Randy was undergoing open heart surgery, so I wasn't able to talk with him," Harrell says. "His wife called to congratulate me. She says Randy's awake and doing well in recovery. I'm hoping to hear from him sometime today hopefully."
"Randy Dowdy and I would like to congratulate Alex on breaking the milestone of 200 bu/ac for soybeans,” says David Hula, world corn yield record holder. “Alex represents a portion of the Total Acre members who are not only focused on ROI but are also driven to push yields to the limit."
"This record is a testament to the Total Acre grower camps led by Dowdy and Hula and their pay-it-forward approach to crop production strategies,” Harrell says.