When Georgia farmers are recognized for producing high yield and low cost soybeans, Glenn Waller’s name is more often than not listed among the winners.

A farmer for 50 years, he grows soybeans, cotton, and beef cattle in Washington County, Ga. He’s not about to retire, but as a concession to his age he recently stopped renting a nearby dryland farm.

His overall 2011 soybean yields were good — 52 bushels per acre — but he says it was mainly due to cutting back on non-irrigated plantings. 

For the 2010 crop, Waller won both the state’s high yield and production efficiency awards. His high yield entry produced 66.94 bushels per are under irrigation, while the production efficiency winning entry recorded a dryland yield of 58.12 bushels per acre, grown at a cost of only $4.73 per bushel.

No single production practice makes him an efficient, high-yield grower. Rather, he points to several practices that combine to produce top per-acre production and low costs per bushel harvested.

“I try to bring the same intensive management to soybeans that other farmers devote to peanuts, cotton or tobacco,” he says.

He plants Roundup Ready varieties and selects them based on yield tests, including one conducted by Georgia Extension on his own farm.

For the 2011 Extension variety evaluation, he planted 25 varieties from Maturity Groups V, VI and VII, in both irrigated and dryland plots. The irrigated plots out-yielded the dryland plots by about 30 bushels per acre.

“Normally,” he says, “the better-yielding irrigated varieties are also the better-yielding dryland varieties.”

The best yields in his variety plots and in his larger soybean plantings are from Maturity Group V. The 10 Group V soybeans in his irrigated variety plots produced an average yield of 61 bushels per acre in 2011.

“I can harvest Group V varieties early and get my winter grazing planted,” he explains.

Root knot nematode resistance is a key trait he looks for in selecting varieties.

In 2010, he adapted his subsoiling strip-till planter and switched from 38-inch rows to 30-inch rows.

“The 30-inch rows produce a quick canopy that helps with weed control,” says Waller. “Closer rows also help the soil hold moisture. Subsoiling under the row is important because our land is naturally compacted.”

Planting rate, depth

He plants 35 pounds of seed per acre at a soil depth of 1 inch. He also uses bacterial seed inoculants each year to insure that his beans receive adequate nitrogen.

As he scaled back, Waller eliminated corn and wheat. Now, he mainly rotates soybeans with cotton, and sometimes with rye planted for grazing.

He says he may not win production efficiency awards for 2011. While his irrigated yields were good, dry weather during pod fill forced him to irrigate often, which added to his production costs. Also, his non-irrigated soybeans failed to produce the high yields he achieved in 2010.

“I irrigated 13 times last year,” he says. He determines when to irrigate by daily observing the soybeans, especially those in dry spots of fields.

Waller invested in irrigation 14 years ago. He says it’s easy to justify soybean irrigation when prices exceed $11 per bushel. Also, he has saved on out of-pocket irrigation expenses by switching from diesel to electric power. He says electricity costs about 40 percent less than what he was spending for diesel to pump water.

He uses a burndown treatment of Prowl and Roundup, followed by Roundup and FirstRate over-the-top, concluding with an application of Roundup and Classic. He also walks his fields and pulls weeds by hand.

“That’s my summer job — pulling weeds to keep them from going to seed,” he says. By keeping fields weed-free, he hasn’t faced the glyphosate-resistant pigweed problem that has vexed many Georgia farms.

He sprays his soybeans twice with Folicur for disease control. “A fungicide is just good insurance for irrigated, high-yield soybeans,” he says. He hasn’t seen Asian soybean rust in his fields. He also plants Extension-monitored sentinel plots to detect the new disease.

“We’ve missed hurricanes during the past several years,” he says. “I think that’s why Asian soybean rust hasn’t been a problem here.”

Insect control is also important. He routinely applies Dimilin with boron. “I haven’t had losses to velvetbean caterpillars since I started using Dimilin,” he says. Dimilin also suppresses green cloverworms and soybean loopers, while boron helps soybeans to retain flowers and set fruit.

The kudzu bug is Waller’s newest soybean insect pest, but pyrethroid insecticides appear to provide control. He believes good control depends on getting insecticide into the crop canopy.

He first tried aerial application, but was dissatisfied with the results.  So he came back with his ground sprayer, increasing pressure and adding extra water to get better penetration into the canopy. “After that, I got a better kill.”

He supports the soybean industry through his close cooperation with Extension and as a member of the Georgia/Florida Soybean Association, the Georgia Agricultural Commodity Commission for Soybeans, and the Georgia Farm Bureau Soybean Committee.