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A few lost bushels here and there add up

Steve Gauck aerial view shows unplanted spots in soybean field
EXPLAIN THE PATTERN: Note the pattern in the upper right corner of the field in this aerial photo taken midseason. The spots that aren’t green beg an explanation.
Soybean Watch: Minor glitches can lead to lower yields over time.

There’s an old story that goes something like this: You pick up a quarter here, a dime there — it’s just pocket change. But pick up enough, and sooner or later it adds up to real money!

Apply that same philosophy to a soybean field. Give up a bushel or two here and there, and soon it’s real yield! You’re forfeiting bushels, which lowers average yield per acre and puts fewer dollars in your bank account.

“We saw several things from the air when we flew a drone over the field that we couldn’t see just walking it,” says Steve Gauck, a Greensburg, Ind., sales agronomist for Beck’s. Gauck monitored the Soybean Watch ’19 field throughout the season. Becks sponsors Soybean Watch ’19.

“We didn’t walk the entire field,” he adds. “That’s tough to do in drilled soybeans, especially later in the season.”

One of the things Gauck saw in the aerial image was a pattern near end rows in one corner of the field. It was at the opposite end from the road. At midseason, there were blank spots every so often across part of those end rows.

“We figured out that it matched up with drill passes,” Gauck says. The field was no-tilled into cornstalks with a John Deere 750 no-till drill on June 12. The entire field still averaged 57.5 bushels per acre.

“What likely happened,” Gauck says, “was that either the operator was lifting the drill out of the ground a bit too soon as he prepared to turn or wasn’t dropping it quite quick enough after he turned and prepared for the next pass. We weren’t talking very big spots with no beans, but there were several of them.”

As it turns out, a first-year employee drilled the beans. The edge of the field where the blank spots were sighted is angled, running along a tree line and a creek. Where the angle is less severe, blank spots disappeared. There were no blank spots on the end near the road, which runs straight with the road, not at an angle.

The farmer allows that overall, the young driver did a good job. Without his help in running the extra drill, several fields, including this one, wouldn’t have been planted before another major wet spell in the second half of June. It just took him time to adjust to turning with the angle, the farmer concludes. One or two more end row passes likely would have covered the blank spots, although it would have meant overseeding areas where there weren’t gaps.

“It’s not a big deal, but it is one of those things you can control in the future,” Gauck says. “Before drones, the only person who would have picked it up was the combine operator, and it might not have seemed like such an obvious pattern.”

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