Last month I shared some additional information gleaned from the 9th annual No-Till Operational Benchmark Study about the top-third corn yielders that didn’t get included in our Spring 2017 edition of Conservation Tillage Guide. With the USDA estimating that soybean acreage will reach a record 89.5 million acres this year, I thought it’d be a good time to take a look at the top third soybean yielders from the study.

Those in the top third yielded an average 67.1 bushels per acre in 2016 — almost 10 bushels higher than the average of the overall study. Here are some additional differences between them and the rest of the survey takers:

  1. Like the top corn yielders, they’re committed to no-till. Ninety-two percent no-till their soybeans — 5 points higher than the overall study — and nearly 70% of them have been no-tilling for at least 16 years. Almost 43% have been no-tilling for more than 25 years.
  2. While a higher percent of the top soybean growers seeded covers in 2016 — nearly 83% — and on more acres than the average no-tiller, they weren’t as diverse with their cover crops compared to the overall survey results. Fifty-five percent seeded a cover-crop mix compared to 62% of all survey takers. Cereal rye was the No. 1 cover seeded for both groups.
  3. The top third plant their soybeans more precisely. About 76% of the them use a planter to plant their soybeans (compared to 70% of the overall survey), while 30% use a drill (vs. 35%) and 9% use an air seeder (vs. 12%).
  4. They also plant in narrower rows. Only 31% of the top third planted their soybeans in 30-inch rows, compared to 40% for the overall study. The majority — 60.3% — plant their soybeans in 15-inch rows.
  5. They focus more on micronutrients than macros. Compared to the overall study, fewer top soybean yielders applied macronutrients, but aside from zinc and calcium, they applied more micronutrients to their 2016 soybean crop.
  6. As we saw with the top corn yielders, more than half of this group applied manure in 2016. Almost 54% used cattle manure, while hog and poultry manure were both applied by 29% of these no-tillers.
  7. Location likely plays a factor in soybean performance. Of the 193 growers in the top third, more than half are located in Iowa, Illinois and Indiana.

For more information on the top third soybean growers, see the article “No-Tillers Hit New Yield Records Across the Board,” in the April 2017 issue.