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Dowdy Grabs Soybean Records

Story and Photos By Dan Miller

Georgia grower targets 400-bushel corn and 100-bushel soybeans. He hit his corn goal—and soybean goal, three times.

Reprinted with permission, ©copyright 2014 Telvent DTN, LLC.

Randy Dowdy confessed to being a bit stressed on this day in late August, an ever present can of 7-Up in his hand. The corn-growing champion, who produced a pair of 400-bushel entries in the 2013 National Corn Yield Contest, had set his sights higher this year. He wanted to send another 400-bushel entry to the corn contest and produce the first-ever, certified 100-bushel-per-acre soybean yield in Georgia.

Even before the harvest, word went out that Georgia corn yield champ Randy Dowdy (left-center) had likely produced a 100-bushel soybean yield. He did—three times.

He spent entire days addressing yield-limiting conditions, large and small. Now as he sat with a visitor, the corn harvest was behind him and the soybean harvest was pending. One hundred farmers, researchers and industry representatives would arrive early the next morning to glimpse his bean plots. Scouting already hinted he had produced the 100 bushels of soybeans. But harvest, still a dozen hot, dry days off in his full-season plots—with root-knot nematodes creating havoc below the soil surface and deer munching away above—would finally tell the tale. Dowdy sat at the kitchen island of his new home, looking out over a four-acre bass pond. Guests will find he has an enthusiasm for deer hunting on par with setting corn and soybeans yield records. Mounts, some with Boone and Crockett Club scores in the 160s, hang high along walls at the home's entrance. Home and pond are found outside Pavo, Ga., a few miles south of Moultrie.

"Growers sometimes get in a rut," Dowdy says. "We wanted to see what could be accomplished in this climate.
don't have preconceived notions. I have to focus on yield and every component of yield."

Proactive Management

Dowdy farms 1,700 acres—his practices reported on his website: www.growbigcorn. com—and has a reputation as an aggressive, opinionated, outspoken manager who is suspicious of conventional thought. He will collect new yield trophies this year. Under stern admonishment from the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) not to reveal the results of his corn contest entries, he admits only to exceeding 400 bushels of corn, again—goal number one achieved.

His soybean story unfolded over a couple of weeks. On Sept. 11, 2014, he collected a 110.66-bushel yield from a Southern States indeterminate soybean plot, outlasting deer and nematodes, and setting a Georgia record. A few days later, Dowdy harvested 109.41 bushels in a plot growing DuPont-Pioneer 47T36, another indeterminate variety. Then on Sept. 22 he counted 108.06 bushels from another plot. This plot held Pioneer P52T50R, a Roundup Ready, Group V. And somewhat unexpectedly, it was a determinate variety. Goal number two achieved—three times, over.

New first

Southern States agronomist Eddie McGriff announced Dowdy's Sept. 11 record by way of email: "Today, Brooks County Extension Agent Ben Shirley documented Randy Dowdy's soybeans at 110.66 bushels per acre with [Southern States] 4917N R2. This is the first time that 100 [bushel-per-acre] soybeans have been made in Georgia…. This makes Randy the first farmer in the world to make 400 [bpa] corn and 100 [bpa] soybeans."

They were "big, beautiful beans," McGriff says of the full-season, late Group IV indeterminate variety. The yield monitor bounced up and down from 75 to 140 bushels along the 30-inch rows—evidence of nematode damage.

Dowdy's 60 acres of "glorified research plots," as he describes them, contained a dozen varieties from Southern States and DuPont-Pioneer. The maturity groups ranged from group IIIs to late-VI. Georgia growers typically plant group VI and VII varieties.

Pioneer's 47T36 was a 2013 winner in an Arkansas Soybean Association yield contest division. It yielded 88.369 there. Pioneer's P52T50R was a bit of a surprise. "We broke a hundred with a determinate. That is significant. That is huge," Dowdy spoke into his cell in a morning call.

"It's a very good yield for a determinate [soybean variety]," agrees Dan Poston, agronomy research manager for the 13 states in Pioneer's Delta and Southeast commercial units. Under high-yield conditions, 80 bushels is very achievable with this variety, he says. But neither Pioneer nor growers would expect 108 bushels in south Georgia from a variety, typically grown north of I-40 in Arkansas.

The yields coming from the plots planted May 6-7 are fairly amazing for this deep-South corner of soybean country. "This sort of flies in the face of everything we've taught growers about soybeans," says John Woodruff, the former University of Georgia Extension soybean specialist, who joined Dowdy, McGriff and Poston in the plot work.

Typically, Georgia growers look for late soybean varieties planted after cotton, peanuts and corn—beans benefited by late-season, tropical rain. Dowdy is looking west to Arkansas for ideas, where growers are cutting 100-bushel beans in an early-season planting system with indeterminate varieties. "We can't point to any one thing they are doing, but [Dowdy believes that] if they can do it, we should be able to do it," Woodruff says.

Georgia has a stellar reputation for cotton and peanuts. The more recent opportunity to earn good money from soybeans has raised interest in what had been a minor crop. Georgia's yearly average yield hangs around the mid-to-upper 30s; while irrigated fields turn out yields in the 70s. The previous Georgia soybean record was 82 bushels.

New option

"We've proved high yield production is possible in Georgia," Dowdy says. "But how do you make that affordable?" Cost will be discussed in winter-time Soybean Colleges hosted by Southern States.

"Soybeans could become more profitable than corn with less risk."

- Randy Dowdy

Soybeans are a journey of discovery for Dowdy, one largely motivated by Kip Cullers and the numbers one, six, zero, point six. Cullers in 2010 produced a record 160.6-bushel yield at his farm outside Purdy, Mo. Cullers has been tightlipped about the finer details of his practices, but does offer two pieces of advice. First, make sure the plant wants for nothing. Second, try new things.

"This is a different animal," he says. "The key is managing stress. You either eliminate stress, or you address it," Dowdy says. One factor is fertility. Dowdy took weekly leaf tissue tests and graphed the results. When the lines for nutrients began to sag, the deficiency was addressed. One 0-0-16 application was made with irrigation to address a late-season potash deficiency—a response to a "want" by the plant.

In the Southern States varieties plots potassium nitrate was applied prior to planting as the primary potash source. "We were looking to see if we could get a yield bump by not using potassium chloride as our source of potash," McGriff says. Some varieties are sensitive to the chlorine in muriate of potash. Dowdy is planning to use K-Mag as a potassium source in 2015 instead of potassium nitrate to avoid lodging from an early nitrogen application. That is a "try something new" idea.

The beans were planted at a depth of 1 inch to 1¼ inches. Seeding rates ranged from 125,000 to 145,000 seeds per acre. The expectation was that the higher yielding soybeans would be found in indeterminates, even though these are generally susceptible to a Southern pest, root-knot nematodes. The pest damages the plant's roots.

High-yield key

"[Indeterminates] keep their energy producing factories going longer," says McGriff.

About 100 farmers, researchers and industry reps inspected Dowdy's high-yield soybean plots.
Indeterminate varieties set pods and continue to grow vegetatively after flowering. Determinates add much less vegetative mass after flowering, but are most often resistant to root-knot nematodes. The late-stage node production of indeterminates mean there is potential for additional yield. However, these varieties usually grow farther north.

"We are test-piloting indeterminates [at Dowdy's farm]," says Poston. "We wanted to see the genetic yield potential." That a determinate variety also produced 100 bushels raises interesting possibilities. "But [Pioneer] is not recommending indeterminates for Georgia," Poston stresses. "Farmers should stick to well-adapted determinates with root-knot nematode resistance."

Dowdy's 100-plus yields came from soil that was in pines three years ago. He chose it for his test plots on the theory that it had no nematodes. The ground has soft elevation changes. The soils are sandy to sandy loam, with clay hilltops. "It's only good to hold the world together. But God made it, so we can work with it," Dowdy says.
He worried about the nematodes impact on yields if they showed up, and they did toward the end of the season.

"You either kill the nematodes or you overcome them with fertilizer and water," Dowdy says. He tried water and fertilizer this year. Next year, Dowdy is looking at Telone II, a pre-plant soil fumigant.

Drowned intentions

Dowdy had intended to plant in mid-April. But 30 inches of rain from March 15 on, soaked the field. The farm recorded a 12-hour, 6-inch rain, just as the crop was emerging. That didn't help.

Some of the soybean varieties were inoculated both as a seed treatment and in-furrow. All varieties had a ABM liquid inoculant applied in-furrow. ABM's America's Best Inoculant system for soybeans contains a rhizobia strain important to high yields. The team sprayed Priaxor infurrow to address seed and seedling rot.

Dowdy applied Avail with his preplant phosphorus. Avail makes phosphorus more available to the plant. He applied 50 pounds per acre of nitrogen with NutriSphere through his irrigation system in three applications beginning at pod elongation. The soybean plant can only supply enough nitrogen to make 70-75 bushels. The push to 100 required supplemental nitrogen. NutriSphere-N Nitrogen Fertilizer Manager reduces long-term volatilization of N. The team applied Biostart in-furrow. Biostart is a root and foliar growth stimulant.

The plots were treated for foliage feeders, such as loopers and sucking pests, such as stink bugs. Dowdy believes that insect thresholds for normal soybean production does not hold true with high-yield beans. He is not content with "some pests." "If they are eating my leaves, they are eating my factory," he says. Dimlin, Belt and Prevathon provided pest control for worms. Stink bugs were treated with Fastac. Dowdy looked to control downy mildew and soybean rust with Approach Prima and Stratego YLD. He made three passes with fungicides.

Brandt's B-Moly was applied with Brandt Smart Trio to supply foliar nitrogen, boron and molybdenum. Smart Trio also includes sulfur, manganese and zinc.

Weed control was challenging, especially for morning glories and sicklepod. On the advice of Georgia Extension weed researcher Eric Proskto, Dowdy next year plans to apply Warrant for pre-emergence residual control, Prefix (Dual and Reflex) plus Roundup two weeks later and then, Roundup and First Rate, two weeks after that.

Monty's Liquid Carbon was applied this year with Warrant. It is a soil conditioner designed to reduce soil compaction and improve overall soil health.

The crop never wanted for water. As the heavy seasonal rains ended, Dowdy applied 1 inch to 1½ inches a week during blooming, and then 2½ inches a week after that.

"The key to the success of this crop is God and God's blessings of good weather," Dowdy says. Management is another. "The key is managing stress—or eliminating it. Fertility. Tissue samples. Weeds. Insects. Planting populations. Water. It's the entire system," he says.

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