Georgia grower sets new soybean record of 171.8 bushels/acre

Randy Dowdy
—Photo courtesy Southern States

Randy Dowdy, owner of Randy Dowdy Farms in Pavo, Ga., not just set a new world soybean production record this year but blew it out of the water with 171.9 bushels per acre.

The previous record of 160.6 bushels per acre was set in 2010 by Kip Culler of  Stark City, Mo.

In a Sept. 9 press conference in Tifton, Ga., Dowdy said he was humbled by the recognition but said it was not just a one-person effort. Instead, he thanked the brain trust of experts nationwide that helped him in what has amounted to a three-year project.

They hailed from the University of Georgia, Brandt, GSN, BASF, Genesis Ag, DuPont Pioneer and Southern States, among other entities.

When he first began cutting, his yield monitor showed 110 bushels. In other places in the field, yields were as high as 227 bushels.

“The part that was driving Randy nuts is why you see 110 and 227 in the same block during harvest,” Dowdy said. “Our goal was not just to break records but to understand why — understand the science behind it so we could duplicate it and replicate it and make sure we’re profitable doing so.”

For the contest, growers must designate 2 or more contiguous acres as their entry. Dowdy’s winning entry consisted of 3.1 aces, and his winning yield was verified on Aug. 29 by University of Georgia Cooperative Extension.

The record was set using USG 74A74RS, a Group IV soybean variety with the Roundup Ready 2 Yield and STS (sulfonylurea tolerant soybean) traits from Dickson, Tenn.-based UniSouth Genetics.

A relatively new concept

Growing full-season soybeans is a relatively new concept in Georgia, Dowdy said. Even in his case, he used to double-crop soybeans after corn. Soybeans also were kind of a low-input stepchild and viewed as a crop growers would plant if they weren’t able to get in their cotton or peanuts.

Dowdy, no stranger to the world of breaking yield records, is a past world record holder in corn production with 503 bushels per acre. He wondered whether some of those practices could be used to boost soybean yields.

Taking a program approach, the group looked at stressors that could limit yield potential. Preseason soil and in-season tissue samples were collected to determine nutrient content. Then recommendations were based on the data.

Last fall, Dowdy said, he spread poultry litter, followed by planting a winter cover crop. After burning down the cover crop this spring, he drilled his beans into the residue. Banking on the nitrogen contained in the poultry litter and cover crop, he applied little additional nitrogen. But he applied potash and micronutrients based on soil sample results.

Because he’s involved in University of Georgia field trials, Dowdy planted seven different soybean varieties at rates of 130,000 to 156,000 per acre. Final stand numbers ranged from 110,000 to about 150,000 plans per acre.

“We’re still learning about early production systems and trying to understand and spread the risk,” he said.

Reducing stress

One of the most stressful times during soybean growth is after herbicides are applied to control Palmer pigweed.

“We sprayed Reflex and Dual and got a pretty good burn,” Dowdy said. To aid plant recovery, he applied an early appliction of Priaxor herbicide.

A second fungicide application was made during the traditional reproductive stage timing to protect plants from frogeye leafspot, rust and other diseases.

As Dowdy did in his record-breaking corn fields, Dowdy also used center-pivots to cool the soybean crop at night using 56-degree well water.

“It’s hot in Georgia, and sometimes we have 80-degree nights and sometimes we have 85-degree nights and we need that plant to shut down.”

He avoided applying the water during the heat of mid-day because the temperature difference could shock the plant.

Planting date is another component still under review. Because soybeans are light and day-length sensitive, you want the plants to be in the R1-R3 reproductive stage on June 21, the longest day of the year.

So growers typically backtrack to determine the proper planting date. In Dowdy’s case, he planted about 60 days earlier between April 21-23.

In Georgia, heat is the No. 1 enemy of soybeans, prompting plants to grow taller and have longer internodes. As a result, lodging can be a concern.

“Now we’re going to experiment with planting earlier, and our goal now is to plant earlier to shorten the internodes and take away some of that lodging risk,” Dowdy said.

— Vicky Boyd, Editor

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