100-bushel-plus soybeans a family affair for Wrays

This wasn’t supposed to be a good year for soybean yields in Arkansas. But there it was: a new state-record 118.8 bushels per acre, harvested by James Wray near Payneway in northeast Arkansas.

And not only did James Wray break the 100-bushel barrier for the first time, but his mother, Annette, and father, Eddie, did, as well, with his mom’s field beating his dad’s by a little over one-tenth of a bushel, 109.843 bushels compared to 109.701 bushels per acre.

They are believed to be the first farmers from northeast Arkansas to record 100-bushel-plus yields for the Arkansas Soybean Association’s Grow for the Green soybean yield challenge. Most of the previous 100-bushel producers have come from a relatively small area around McGehee in southeast Arkansas.

Another southeast Arkansas grower, Martin Henry of Desha County, harvested a plot of 113.888 bushels per acre on Sept. 16. That was the new state record until Wray harvested his plot on Sept. 27

Having one farmer break 100 bushels is unusual, but having three from the same family is extraordinary, says Jeremy Ross, Extension soybean specialist with the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.

“It’s pretty amazing that one family could grow three fields over the 100-bushel-per-acre mark,” says Dr. Ross. “And two of those fields were close to 110 bushels. It’s just phenomenal to be able to do that across multiple fields.”

120 bushels within sight

What’s even more amazing is that James Wray came very close to reaching the 120-bushels-per-acre-by-2020 goal set by the Grow for the Green Challenge in his first time to enter the challenge. The 120-bushel-by-2020 goal carries a $10,000 prize.

According to Dr. Ross, Wray’s yield was initially pegged at 120.002, but when a percentage for foreign matter was subtracted, the yield came in at 118.8 bushels.

Wray, who is growing his second full crop after graduating from Arkansas State University in May 2014, was interviewed while taking a break from driving the combine. He said he didn’t accomplish his goal of breaking the 100-bushel barrier by himself.

“A lot of it has to do with the Lord,” he said. “The Bible talks about how the one who plants and who waters is nothing, but the Lord gives the increase. I think a lot of our success has been from the Lord blessing us and rewarding our hard work.”

He also credits his father, Eddie. “My Dad’s always been a cotton grower, and so you have to be attentive to detail,” he said. “Every little step you take along the way can make or break you. If you take that same mentality to soybeans you can really bump your yields by not treating them like a stepchild.”

The 118.8-bushel-per-acre field of Pioneer 47T36 was planted on April 12. All three of the 100-plus-bushel fields were planted within three or four days of each, according to Wray. His dad’s field was planted in the same variety as the 118.8-bushel field and his mom’s in Pioneer 46T21. All were planted on 38-inch rows.

Numerous test plots

“We don’t feel like we did that much to push these fields,” says James. “We did apply a fungicide, Approach Prima, along with CoRon 10-0-10 plus 0.5% B, a foliar feed. I just ran that at R-3.”

The seed the Wrays planted had Seed Shield, an insecticide and fungicide seed treatment; Kickstand PGR, a root enhancement material; and, First Up, an inoculant, all products from Helena Chemical, whose local representative, Ty Mason, has worked closely with the Wrays.

“We tried those three seed treatment products from Helena last year, and they worked really well,” he said. “They out-performed my previous seed treatment enough to make up the cost and then some so I decided to put it on all my acres this year.”

“I have a lot of test plots,” said. “I have to try a bunch of different stuff. He (Wray points to his dad) gets aggravated because we have to cut around everything. It takes us two days to cut a field sometimes.”

Wray says he watered the fields five to eight times – “every time they needed it,” which worked out to about once a week during the growing season. It was that kind of year, which was one of the reasons Dr. Ross did not expect a repeat of the high yields of previous years.

“I’m a little surprised that we have had six fields so far break the 100-bushel-an-acre mark,” he said. “I didn’t think we would see these numbers this year with the hot, dry weather pattern we saw during June and July, and then the wet cloudy conditions we had during the first of August.”

Credit for suppliers, Extension

(Besides the Wrays and Henry, Michael Taylor Jr. of Helena, Ark., broke the 100-bushel barrier with a yield of 101.319 bushels per acre, and Layne Miles, McGehee, Ark., went over it with a yield of 100.94 bushels per acre.)

Wray gives Helena’s Ty Mason credit for helping make the higher soybean yields a reality along with the two Extension agents who serve Poinsett County – Craig Allen and Justin Chlapecka.

“We have really enjoyed working with Ty the last couple of years. He works hard to get us what we need and get it to us quickly. He stays up to date on the latest research with their products so he knows what to tell me to try. Next year I’m planning to try a few things like ENC and Megafol at my first herbicide application and some additional foliar products to reduce stress.

“Craig and Justin are so knowledgeable and helpful,” says Wray. “I can call them with any issue and get an answer and if they don't know, they get back with me quickly. From helping me with fertility decisions to pipe planner, they go out of their way to help and answer any questions I might have.”

“James Wray is so energetic, and it’s fun to work with him and his family,” said Allen, Extension staff chair for Poinsett County for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. “They’re so involved in every aspect of what they can do to make the best yield they can grow.

“It’s great to see a young farmer coming in and being this goal-oriented. His goal this year was to hit 100 and next year, it was to hit 120. His 118.8 was literally five bushels on the truck away from being 120.”

Short-term, long-term goals

Wray said he was disappointed because he missed the deadline for entering the Grow for the Green Challenge last year. The field he would have entered harvested 97 bushels per acre, which whetted his appetite to go higher.

“One of the goals I set this year was to break the 100-bushel mark and hit 120 next year,” he said. “I also set a goal of having a whole-farm average of 70 bushels per acre on the Wray’s 2,000 acres of soybeans, and I think we’re close to that now.”

His 10-year goal is to break the world record of 171 bushels per acre set by Randy Dowdy, a producer from Georgia, earlier this year. “I never thought that was even possible,” he said of the 171 bushels. “This year we grew 118 without pushing it too much. The record is 171 now, and I don’t see that it’s too far-fetched to hit that if you really push it.”

While riding in the combine after a photo shoot, Wray said he initially thought the field he was harvesting that day (Sept. 30) would yield higher than the 118.8 bushel field that set the state record. “I’m learning you can’t always tell until you put the combine in it.”

For more on the Grow for the Green Challenge, visit http://www.arkansassoybean.com/Yield-Contest-.html.

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