Soybean yield prospects show big range in heartland 

Soybean farmers in many parts of the High Plains have dealt with weather extremes in 2023. (Journal photo by Tim Unruh.)

Just as he’s done for the bulk of this growing season, Steve Clanton is “waiting for a rain,” especially for his thirsty soybeans in Ottawa County. 

Harvest was looming when he recently revisited the bone-dry issue, fearing the crop will fall short of expectations. 

 “I think we’ll be cutting quicker than we think, before the end of September,” said the longtime soybean producer. 

But this has been an unusual growing season, full of heat and moisture extremes. 

“Some people will argue whether we’ll be cutting at all. It’s situational,” Clanton said. “I went around almost two weeks ago, and I was only seeing 20 pods on a plant.” 

While he only examined a few spots on the farm, Clanton figured a preliminary yield of 11 to 14 bushels to the acre. 

He then delved into one particular field and found dismal results, from a low of 5.4 and high of 17.4 bushels to the acre this harvest, a reduction of 41% to 47%. 

“That yield goes to pot when the beans are pea sized,” Clanton said. “The average (yield) for this field since 2000, is 39.8 bushels to the acre.” 

“The question might be how many people are baling their beans. I wonder if they’re only going to get stalks and no leaves,” he said. 

Difficulties have been obvious, said Ron Ohlde, a member of the Kansas Soybean Commission, who owns and operates Ohlde Seed Farms in Washington County with sons Shane and Shaun. 

They raise soybeans, corn, sorghum, sorghum forages, and wheat, for both grain, feed and seed. 

Location has made a difference, too, Ohlde said, depending on where storm clouds released moisture. 

“We’ve been lucky for the most part, compared to most. You go east of us, all the way to St. Joe (Missouri), they’ve got some really good crops. North of (Interstate Highway) 70, and north of (U.S. Highway) 36, really looks good,” he said. “You go 10 miles south of us and that’s a whole different story.” 

Rains have been spotty, Ohlde said. 

“We’re about 4.5 to 5 inches below normal (rainfall), but you can raise a crop with timely rains,” he said. 

Extreme heat, however, has exacerbated the issue. 

High temperatures hovered “at least in the triple digits,” Ohlde said. “They always throw the heat index out there and I wish they wouldn’t. That only makes you feel worse. When it’s hot, it’s hot in Kansas. 

It all started with a dry spring, causing the Ohldes to abandon roughly 30% of their wheat crop. 

Sign up for HPJ Insights

Our weekly newsletter delivers the latest news straight to your inbox including breaking news, our exclusive columns and much more.

“One particular field was planted back to beans, and it’s gonna be a failure as well,” Ohlde said. “So I’m going to have two crop failures in the same field, in one year.” 

When 50-bushel dryland soybean yields are considered good in these parts there is a wide range of expectations, from the upper 60s on Ohlde Farms’ wettest bottom land, down to around 40 bushels to the acre in other areas. Upland fields will range from single digit yields to the 20s and 30s, Ron Ohlde said. 

While rain would have been more beneficial in August, more showers in mid- to late-September would perhaps “slow the deterioration” of the soybean plants, he said, and still could help the beans fill. 

A former Kansas Soybean Commissioner, Clanton is a proponent of soybeans—even during current conditions—but it requires something more to flourish in a dry year. Grain sorghum is still his top crop when dealing with rain and heat extremes. 

“Over the years, you look at beans, they’re almost as good, but milo’s a little more drought hardy. Unfortunately, this is a year when I planted more soybeans than milo and the milo looks pretty good. It’s gonna be an interesting year,” Clanton said. “I always figure if I can get a rain around the 20th of August, we’ll get a decent bean crop, and we didn’t get that this year.” 

Despite some doldrums in the field, he is happy that the soybean price is well above $13 a bushel. 

Looking to the 2024 growing season, Ohlde is concerned about having enough seed to satisfy demand. 

“Our wheat supply’s gonna be short. On the bean supply, I know there’s gonna be varieties we’re gonna be short on, especially in the dryland production,” he said. “Irrigated (seed supplies) look good. We just don’t have enough irrigation.” 

Ohlde is intrigued by what’s happening in soybean research, from extensive work on drought tolerance and genome editing, to insect and disease resistance. 

“They’re also working on research for when it gets too wet,” he said. “Some of the more exciting things are the biologicals, which I feel is bringing a whole new dynamic to the industry.” 

Breakthroughs are both in foliar treatments applied above ground by spray rigs and drones, or “underground things that you apply with a planter,” Ohlde said. “Then you throw in cover crops that stimulate the biology in the soil; fungi and the bacteria. We take soil samples to know what our fertility is in the soil. Now we’re going to be taking samples to identify what fungi and bacteria we have. We need to stimulate the soil.” 

Biologicals “are various types of treatments that could be added to the seed, or something applied during the growing season,” said Bill Schapaugh, Kansas State University professor and soybean breeder. 

“Biological means it’s a living organism identified as having benefits to plants in some ways,” he said. “Some of them are to help improve nutrients utilization. Some are designed to help with drought or heat.” 

While he doesn’t work directly with biologicals, Schapaugh said he has seen reports from K-State, and there is other research in both the public and private sectors. 

 Jay Wisbey, Kansas State University Research and Extension agent for Saline and Ottawa counties, advised producers to conduct trials on their land, and to stay on top of changes. 

“Find out what works on your acres. It might work in one spot, but not on another,” Wisbey said. “Next year will be different. You’re going to get inconsistent results every year.” 

But he applauds the effort of researchers. 

“It’s kind of neat they are looking into more things,” Wisbey said. “You need to get the basics right first. Get the pH right. If you don’t have soil fertility and weed control right, it really muddies the water.” 

Tim Unruh can be reached at [email protected]. 

Steve Clanton shelled the pods from two plants and counted a total of 124 soybeans. The question is how many are harvest-able, the beans per pod would suggest 76 soybeans harvested.
Steve Clanton shelled the pods from two plants and counted a total of 124 soybeans. The question is how many are harvest-able, the beans per pod would suggest 76 soybeans harvested. (Photo courtesy of Steve Clanton.)

Clanton closely examines one soybean field in Ottawa County

On Sept. 12, Steve Clanton looked at one of his fields of soybeans. He estimated yield at two spots. One was average and the other was high average. 

The potential Clanton saw at 2,800 seeds per pound and 2.1 beans per pod was an average 13.1 bushels per acre and a high of 37 bushels per acre, 

At 3,400 seeds per pound and 1.05 and 1.2 beans per pod, he showed an average 5.4 bushels per acre and a high of 17.4bushels per acre. 

That’s 41% and 47% reduction from potential. 

The average for this field since 2000 is 39.8 bushels per acre.