Missouri farmer Kip Cullers has gained national recognition for his 2007 record soybean yield of 154 bushels per acre. So when the Purdy County farmer chose Riley County as his visit to Kansas, it's little wonder that farmers from across northeast Kansas packed the meeting room to learn as much as possible.
What they learned is that Cullers is not afraid to try new tricks to boost production, even if they are a bit unconventional.
"I tested putting tin foil on the ground in my corn fields last year," he says.
Sunlight reflected from the foil onto the plant's bottom leaves, boosting photosynthesis. "It worked. I gained an additional two to four rows per ear. I'll further test this next year. We are looking at wheat straw, thinking it might do the same thing."
He has dryland and irrigated corn and soybeans, full-season and double-crop. Each requires different management skills, but some principles apply in all cases.
For instance, he hosts test plots for his local seed dealer, in order to learn which new varieties might perform the best. Hybrids and varieties have a short life span, usually less than six years. If one of them shows a yield boost on his farm, he wants to get as many years of production out of it as possible. The extra effort associated with the test plots is a headache, he admits.
"You need to know how the new hybrid is going to work on your farm," he says. "I make my living farmers, so I do a few things I don't want to do."
Cullers' main enterprise is growing 3,000 acres of Italian green beans for a local canning company. The crop requires intense scrutiny and management. Lessons learned from successfully growing the green beans have been applied to soybeans.
He plants a portion of the soybean crop with a Monosem twin-row planter – the same tool he uses in vegetable fields.
"A grain drill dumps seed in piles and it is hard to control depth," he explains. "The Monosem is very accurate. It is hyper-critical, whether in corn or soybeans, that the seedlings emerge within a 36-hour window. Anything that comes up 36 hours later is a weed. I want everything exactly the same size."
Cullers intends to plant large-seeded soybeans, preferring a seed size of about 2,000 seeds per pound. "The easiest way to make yield is to have a bigger seed size," he says.
He plants Pioneer-brand seed, opting for Syngenta's Cruiser and EMD Crop BioScience's Optimize seed treatments. Cruiser ensures early-season plant health; Optimize, he says, enhances feeder root growth and allows the plant to pull more nutrients from the top few inches of soil.
Cullers applies magnesium, manganese and sulfate to drive seed size; at podset, he applies a quart of iron per acre to increase the plant's chlorophyll uptake. Phosphorous and potassium are foliar applied. All of these improve plant health.
"I aim to make the plant as dark green as possible," he says.
Farmers need to continue to learn by asking questions and thinking out of the norm. "My main point is to try new things," he says.
Check in tomorrow for "Kip's Tips."