Recently, the University of Nebraska reported that extreme weather has cost American soybean farmers an estimated $11 billion in unrealized yield potential over the past two decades.
A study published in the journal Nature Plants found that soybean yields declined by about 4.3% for every degree rise in average growing-season temperatures. They also found that yields dropped when May, July and September were wetter than normal, and if June and August were drier.
The result? Soybean yield gains — which have been about 0.8% a year — could’ve been 30% higher if it weren’t for the drastic weather changes.
While we can’t control the weather, growers who are implementing conservation practices have found they’re having better luck handling the extremes over their neighbors who don’t practice conservation.
“Spring rainfall is one of the big reasons we started cover crops in the first place,” Chris Gaesser, a no-tiller in Corning, Iowa, told attendees at the Iowa Soybean Association Research Conference in February. “We had 2 or 3 years in a row where we’d get 4 inches of rain in an hour and none of our conservation systems, like terraces, were built to hold that. So we decided we needed to do something on the ground to help hold it in place to get our crop established.”
A.J. Blair says no-till has been a big help in keeping planting and harvesting timely despite the weather. The Dayton, Iowa, grower shared how a neighbor got his planter stuck in the field where he had cultivated the soil, while Blair had been planting soybeans all day. Last fall, he was able to combine fields while the same neighbors were spinning wheels and making ruts.
“With the weather we’ve gotten the last couple years, I think we’ve seen the dividends on the ground we’re working on [with conservation practices],” he says.
Wayne Fredericks, a no-tiller and strip-tiller in Osage, Iowa, added that another key to handling the weather is being prepared to go.
“You have to be ready, equipment-wise,” he says. “You have to be set up to go and I think you have to build resilience into your systems. That’s why I no-till and strip-till — it gives me a huge advantage in the spring over the neighbors that have to go out and till first.
“We don’t always get that opportunity to go when it’s ideal, so be prepared to be ready when you can.”