In Virginia, Soybean Specialist David Holshouser says, “Trend line yields for Virginia since 1995 are moving up an average of 0.44 bushels per year (versus 0.5 bushels for the entire USA).  Our trend line yield was at 27 bushels per acre in 1995 and at almost 35 bushels per acre in 2010.”

Wheat yields should be hurt more than any other grain crop grown in the Southeast, if for no other reason than the crop stays in the ground longer than any other grain crop. It is left vulnerable to early freezes in the fall and late freezes in the spring, and other bad weather from planting in October to Harvest in May or June.

Despite its vulnerability to weather, wheat has done well over the past 10 years. Clearly a lot of the increased production in the Upper Southeast is enhanced by a very strong wheat breeding program conducted by Virginia Tech Plant Breeder Carl Griffey.

Small Grains Specialist Thomason says, “Wheat acreage is up across the Upper Southeast, prices remain good and the future looks even better, based on continued yield increases in statewide variety tests.

Thomason says the average yield of wheat varieties in statewide testing from 2000 to 2009 has gone up an average of 2.8 bushels per acre per year.

“Basically, we haven’t changed the way we manage these test plots since 1999, so most of the increase is due to genetic improvement. Even more surprising is an annual increase of nearly a pound of test weight during that eight-year time frame,” Thomason says.

Holshouser says soybean growers in the Southeast can grow yields comparable to growers in the Midwest, if there is adequate rainfall throughout the growing season. 

“We can yield with the Midwest, but we have to have the rainfall.” 

He explains that most areas of the Southeast don’t have high water-holding capacity soils like growers have throughout the Midwest.  As one grower recently stated, “We’re only 10 to 14 days away from the last rain to a drought,” Holshouser says.

He lists five primary reasons for the 15-year trend improvement in soybeans in Virginia:

• Residue-building practices that include continuous no-till, cover crops, and/or incorporating high-residue crops in the rotation such as wheat and corn. These practices are building our organic matter and soil structure and fertility, which allow us to tolerate droughts much better and also take better advantage of higher-yielding varieties in good years.