For South Carolina soybean yield champion Johnny Hauser growing beans isn't a low input second or third choice — it's his money crop.
Hauser won the 2005 State Yield Award by growing 69.21 bushels per acre. He planted Garst 4512 Group IV maturity seed at 30 pounds per acre to produce his winning crop. If there is a secret, he says, it comes in planting Maturity Group IV beans early in the season and paying attention to details.
Last year was actually not one of his best years for soybean yields, according to the South Carolina grower. Three years ago, he contends, he cut beans in one field that averaged over 75 bushels per acre. Over the past three years, he has consistently produced 60 bushel beans per acre on non-irrigated land.
“Three years ago, I started out growing Group IV beans. The first crop was only 400 acres, and I averaged 63 bushels per acre. About 100 of those 400 acres were planted on re-claimed peach orchard land that was nearly pure sand, and I still averaged more than 40 bushels per acre on that poor land,” he remembers.
Over the past three years, he has averaged over 50 bushels per acre, but points out that the three years prior to that were bad weather years, and all his crops suffered. There is no way around the impact weather has on your ability to produce a crop, he surmises.
Since that time, Group IV beans have been the staple on his farm. “I was looking at a way to spread out the risk and the IVs came off early enough to allow me to spread out harvest and risk. I have increased every year the acreage of IVs, but it's hard to do, if you have large acreages of corn,” he says.
Hauser planted more than 800 acres of wheat, which will be double-cropped this year with later maturity beans. In addition, he will plant several hundred acres of corn, which will allow him to plant roughly 1,000 acres of Group IV beans.
“I have a 16 row planter, and we plant in 30-inch rows, which allow me to plant a lot of acres in a short period of time. That's not the problem — I can plant a lot more soybeans in a week than I can harvest in a week,” Hauser explains. Early season beans, planted in late April or early May have a very similar production schedule as corn, so the crunch with growing the two crops comes at harvest time, he says.
If his land was ready and weather was right, Hauser says he could plant more than 1,500 acres a week. That wouldn't be smart, and is not what he plans to do, Hauser adds. He will start planting his mid-Maturity Group IV beans on or about April 15 and plant the bulk of his soybean crop over several weeks, then begin to plant later Group V and VI varieties and end up with Group VIIs in a double-crop with wheat.
Last year he planted some Group IIIs, but that didn't work out so well, he says. ‘I've grown a lot of soybeans over the years, but I'm still learning too, he laments. With the IIIs, the leaves came off so early, and we lost weed control.
“In retrospect, what I probably need to do is with the first Roundup application, I need to add a residual herbicide. Last year, when the leaves fell off in August, and rains came, pigweed began to pop up. I actually had to spray the Group IIIs with gramoxone to burn down everything so we could cut the beans,” he explains.
If there is a secret to growing Group IV beans in South Carolina, Hauser contends it's using a liquid fertilizer in a two by two system, applied at planting. Using a 2-6-12 liquid formulation as a pop-up starter fertilizer gets the beans up and growing early in the season, the South Carolina grower stresses. “Even if soil samples call for nothing, I'm going to give my beans a starter shot, because I want to see them up in a few days after planting and growing,” Hauser explains.
“We've done comparative studies, looking at treated and untreated rows, and you can see the difference in the size of the plant and the vigor. On beans with the starter fertilizer, it seems like they pop up out of the ground and never stop growing,” he adds.
Typically, Hauser will start planting Group IV beans in mid-April and end up planting double-crop beans behind wheat in mid-June. “If the IVs planted in mid-April and the VIIs planted in mid-June get comparable amounts of rain, I believe the early planted beans will produce yields double the late planted ones,” Hauser contends.
I have had real good luck with Garst Group IV varieties, so I plant their seed. Plus, the Garst sales representative, Dale Orr, is one of the most knowledgeable soybean people I know,” Hauser notes.
“We try to do everything right with our beans. We don't treat soybeans like a second crop, whereas some growers plant beans because they don't have anything else to plant. We treat them like our main crop. We don't grow cotton and have reduced corn acreage to allow me to grow more beans,” Hauser explains.
Next year, he says he will have to plant more corn because of market demands and to provide good rotation for his beans. Planting beans behind beans will catch up with you over a period of years, he notes. The South Carolina grower adds that he has already sold 2007 beans as part of his forward-thinking, forward planning marketing program.
“I really think good marketing is sometimes more important than good farming, though we try to do both,” Hauser jokes. He says spending time on the phone and on the Internet tracking prices pays off comparably to keeping up with production information.
As to why the early planted Zone IV beans are so much more productive than later maturing beans, Hauser jokingly says, “it's the genes in the beans”. Group IV varieties, he explains are an indeterminant bean, meaning they bloom continuously. From a practical standpoint, Hauser says the IVs allow you to miss a rain or two and still get optimum production. With the later maturing varieties, he contends, you miss a rain and the plant can't compensate.
“Our conditions are not much different than in the Delta, and they don't grow much other than Group IIIs and IVs. Even in the major soybean growing regions, Group Vs are about as high as they go, the South Carolina grower contends. He stresses the obvious, that Group IV soybeans can grow real well in the Deep South, if the grower pays attention to the needs of the plant.
There are some risks, he adds. In 2004, four hurricanes passed near the area in about a month, and there were problems harvesting so many beans in a short period of time. Hauser admits that soybeans will rot in the field, but so will any crop, if left too long in wet conditions.
There also is a slight damage issue that can be a problem in selling beans, but the premium price for delivering beans earlier than they are available in other parts of the country and increased yields more than offsets price reductions related to bean damage, he contends.
“I have gotten over a dollar a bushel premium for my early beans, because most mills don't have beans in August and September. Premiums vary from a quarter to a dollar a bushel, and add that to 50 bushel per acre beans, and the two combined makes a difference,” Hauser says.
Late weed damage can be a problem, if you don't have fields clean. Soybean leaves begin to fall off early beans around Aug. 10-15, and late season escapes can hamper harvesting beans. “The worst weed problem we had was morningglory, and Roundup doesn't control it, so we have begun to use some different herbicides, which I think is critical to break the dependency on glyphosate and prevent resistance problems. Last year, we used Resource for pigweed, and that worked really well, the South Carolina grower notes.
Though he understands the benefits of no-till and strip-tillage systems, the South Carolina grower says it doesn't work for him. “I only plant six seed per foot of row, or about 30 pounds of seed per acre, but I get at least a 95 percent germination rate. In a no-till system, you have to up the seeding rate at least 25 percent. Even with the price of fuel, I can disk and till and plant in perfect conditions nearly as economically as I can use no-till or strip till systems,” he contends.
Marketing is critical to staying in business, Hauser contends. He cash sales some of his crop and hedges the rest. When crops reach a profitable price, he says, he hedges his crop. “At some time this year, soybeans will go to $7 per bushel, when that happens, you have to be ready to pull the trigger,” the South Carolina grower stresses. Based on 35 bushels per acre, $6.50 per bushel is a good price, he adds.
“Wheat is a perfect example of knowing how to market your crop. I've been farming since 1978, and I can count on one hand how many times I have sold wheat for $4 a bushel. Wheat has been $4 a bushel for a month, and the last three weeks has dropped 50 cents a bushel. I've already sold 2006 wheat and 2007 wheat for $4.25 — a record price for me for that crop,” he says. I would bet less than 50 percent of our farmers have sold 2006 wheat and I bet less than 10 percent have sold 2007 wheat,” he adds.
Hauser, who inherited his love for agriculture from his grandfather, credits much of the success of his farming operation to his farm manager, Jerry Hardin. “Jerry worked with my grandfather, and he has been a big part of any successes we've had, Hauser says.
For anyone considering growing Group IV beans, planted early, Hauser recommends going small in the beginning. He warns that there is no magic in using this unusual combination of beans and early planting — it takes hard work and good weather, he concludes.