Northeast of Dumas, Ark., the soybeans are just days from harvest and Martin Henry is pleased.
“I’m not big on predictions, but they do look good,” says Henry, waist-deep in heavily loaded plants. “This year, we’re raising roughly 2,300 acres of soybeans and 640 acres of rice. That’s a relatively normal breakdown. We’re not spread out really far -- it’s all within three miles.”
Henry’s abilities as a producer are extremely impressive, says Lanny Ashlock, with the Arkansas Soybean Promotion Board. “What’s unique is that Martin farms heavy ground.” Even so, last year, Henry’s yield contest field harvested “98.5 bushels on a Sharkey clay-type soil. To me, that’s remarkable.”
“I’ve got some sand, some Sharkey, and some real buckshot. It’s tough ground,” says Henry. “The most important thing we’ve learned, because these aren’t sandy soils, is we’ve got to get it bedded during the fall. As soon as we get the crop out, we’re busy disking, bedding and pulling up rows.
“A thing I learned from Dr. Ashlock a long time ago is we have to plant early. The earlier we plant it seems the better we do. It’s about early production for us.”
Henry’s enthusiasm for farming wasn’t always so bright. “My granddad was a small farmer, years ago. Then, my father and uncle farmed together. I went to college in Fayetteville not planning to be a farmer. But after graduating I said, ‘I’ll try it for one year.’ Turns out, I fell in love with (farming) and here I am.”
Henry’s 2014 contest field, in corn last year, was planted April 10 with a Group 4 – Asgrow 4968. “We go with P and K and use some chicken litter. Fungicides are also a big part of the program. We sprayed twice this year.”
Contributing to the successful crop was a cool summer that “was very unusual, along with quite a bit of rain.”
How did the growing season progress?
“We did have to irrigate,” says Henry. “On a normal year, we’d irrigate six or seven times. This year, we irrigated three times – cut it in half. Every time we’d get ready to irrigate, it would rain.
“We’re fortunate to have good water around here. The whole farm is on the PHAUCET irrigation scheduler. That’s something that needs to be promoted. Using it means wasting 30 percent less water. This is our third year using that program. As valuable as water is, we need to save every drop possible.”
Henry admits there was “a big learning curve” with PHAUCET. However, “we’re comfortable with it now. It took a while. You set up a field on the computer, get the flow rate from your well and the program tells you the hole sizes to pop (in the polypipe). Years ago, we’d just pop all the same holes. That meant one end of the field would (have water) and we’d have to wait for half a day, or more, for the other end of the field to be irrigated.
“I’m telling you: PHAUCET works. When the water is out, the field is covered. You aren’t just pouring water out the end of the field while waiting for the whole field to be covered. I wish everyone would try it.”
Contests and education
Henry also credits the yield contests in the state with nudging producers to strict management of their soybean crops. “Being involved in the Go for the Green contest has allowed us to learn so much by trying to push these beans. We wouldn’t have done that before. Now, we’re not just pushing one field but all of them. So, the contest has really helped Arkansas soybeans.”
Also wading through Henry’s field, Wes Kirkpatrick, Desha County Extension staff chair, says there are 16 contest fields in the county this year. “For contest fields, there has to be five to seven acres. We measure it out with a measuring wheel and (the contest block) must have four 90-degree corners. It can’t be a triangle or odd shape, only rectangle or square.
“We verify that the truck and combine are empty before they start cutting. They dump it onto one truck and take it to a certified scale for a weight. We then calculate bushels per acre, correct for moisture -- 13 percent -- and any foreign matter.”
Ashlock says this is fourth year for the Grow for the Green contest. “There’s been a yield contest in Arkansas for probably 20 years.
“About seven years ago, the Arkansas Soybean Association and the Arkansas Soybean Promotion Board worked together to come up with the Race for 100 project. They put $50,000 in escrow for the (first farmer to hit 100 bushels). The best contest fields, for five or six years, were in the 90-bushel range and it just looked like we were capped out.
“Then, last year, the weather was cooler and a better environment. At the same time, the producers got better and better at what they do. We had three producers break 100 bushels. That meant the $50,000 was split three ways.”
A lot of fields “were very close,” says Kirkpatrick. “Henry hit 98.5 bushels. There was a field that was 99 bushels.”
Ashlock agrees. “There were many in the 95 to 100 range. There was one guy with a 99.98-bushel yield -- a heartbreaker.”
Fungicides are a big part of Henry’s success. “We’re spending a fortune on fungicides. Years ago, we never put a fungicide on a bean. Then, we started spraying them once. Now, we’re hitting them twice. That can cost us $23 or $24 per acre by the time you include the plane. It’s expensive, but the fungicides work.
“We change fungicide chemistries from the first to second application. That helps with resistance issues. We’re treating soybeans now like we used to treat cotton and rice.”
Henry is also strictly on time with irrigation. “We irrigate now when the beans are turning and that’s something we never used to do. That can gain two or three bushels. We just want to push the beans, push them hard.”
Curtis Fox, Henry’s consultant, says the pair began entering the yield contest four or five years ago. “It’s been neat to see the progression. The first year in the competition, we had a yield of 84 to 86 bushels. Then, our yield was 94 bushels. After that we had a 96 and a 98. It’s been a lot of fun to be a part of.”
Asked about resistant pigweeds on the operation, Henry says they are a constant foe. “Resistant weeds are an issue. We go with a lot of pre-emerge early. When we do have escapes, we go into the field and pull them out. We work hard at getting every one of them. If they are run through the combine, the seeds go everywhere.
“This year, our burndown was LeadOff. When we plant, we come right behind the planter with a full rate of Authority MTZ. That works. For instance, we had one field where the sprayer went back into the field and got on the wrong path. The path he missed had pigweeds all through it. You can’t farm here without a pre-emerge.
“We plow, as well, and that helps. Many people don’t plow anymore. We get some of the weeds out that way. I think it helps to just turn that dirt around one time