Alex Harrell's Soybean Plot Yields 206.7997 BPA, Sets New World Record
Aug 22, 2023
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (DTN) -- Records are meant to be broken, and on Aug. 23, Georgia farmer Alex Harrell did just that, placing his name atop the list of the nation's most prodigious soybean growers.
With the harvest of a 2.5-acre plot of irrigated soybeans averaging 206.7997 bushels per acre (bpa), Harrell achieved a new world record for soybean production, besting the efforts of fellow Georgian Randy Dowdy, of Valdosta, who held the record the past seven years.
Harrell's average yield is the first to exceed 200 bpa. The previous record was 190.23 bpa, set by Dowdy in 2019. Dowdy had previously harvested soybeans yielding 171 bpa in 2016, which topped the 160.6 bpa record set by Kip Cullers of Purdy, Missouri, in 2010.
"It was surreal, but it was pretty cool," Harrell told DTN during a phone interview on Thursday. "Doug Collins, our local county agent, was in the combine with me, and he couldn't believe it. Even just watching the combine go through it, I said there's no way they're going to break 200, but they did."
Richard Roth, University of Georgia Extension Grains and Soybean Agronomist, is responsible for administering the state's soybean yield contest. He confirmed to DTN that the harvest of Harrell's contest entry was personally witnessed by Collins, the Lee County Extension Coordinator. The entry was weighed on certified scales, and three tests averaged the entry at 14% moisture.
"Our state contest only requires a minimum harvest of 1.25 acres. A lot of states require 2.5 acres, so that is what Alex harvested," Roth said. "The average soybean yield in Georgia is about 45 bpa, so what Alex has done has shown us what the genetic potential of soybeans in this environment can be. He's shown us some techniques that we can use to improve yields."
While the U.S. soybean industry doesn't organize a nationwide yield contest, news of Harrell's accomplishment was met favorably.
"What's more exciting than a potential new world record for soy?" said Wendy Brannen, spokesperson for the American Soybean Association, in a statement to DTN. "We're so pleased for Alex and his entire operation that they've been able to implement outstanding farming practices and demonstrate how effective U.S. soy production can be."
ABOUT THE CONTEST PLOT
For his contest entry, Harrell chose a 10-acre block within a 60-acre sandy loam field equipped with pivot irrigation. After grid soil sampling last fall, lime was applied at a variable rate, and the field was seeded to a winter cover crop mix of oats, rye, triticale and daikon radish.
Prior to planting this spring, the field was strip-tilled to prepare the seed bed. Gypsum and chicken litter were also applied preplant.
Harrell selected Asgrow AG48X9, a Group 4.8 indeterminate, as his soybean variety. He planted in 30-inch rows at a seeding rate of 85,000 seeds per acre on April 5.
"At planting, we had a concoction of humic acid, fulvid acid, biologicals and PGRs," he said. "We also ran all our nutrients -- NPK&S and all our minors -- in a 3-by-3 system at planting."
The day after planting, Harrell said a "packing rain" fell on the field, which caused some concern about the potential for stand reduction. The final stand count was 77,000 plants per acre.
Each Monday from emergence until the field was desiccated, Harrell took weekly tissue samples that he used to inform his application of in-season nutrition. "There was not a single five- to seven-day window when we didn't make an application of some sort, whether it be with Y-drops, fertigation or foliar sprayed on," he said.
Weed control was achieved with applications of XtendiMax and glyphosate herbicides. Revytek from BASF was the primary fungicide that Harrell employed. He said they ran a "zero tolerance" program for insect control.
"Stink bugs are a huge program in Georgia, along with soybean loopers, velvetbean caterpillars and armyworms," he said. "I wanted absolutely no yield to be lost to an insect."
When estimating yield prior to harvest, Harrell wasn't entirely sure what results to expect. He said averages were running from 140 to 160 bpa.
"But we were making those estimating using 2,500 to 3,000 beans per pound, when in reality, we were around 1,600 to 1,700 beans per pound," he said. "It's not like I had three times as many pods per acre. I credit those big, heavy beans. They looked like marbles going into the grain tank."
Harrell farms about 3,000 acres in Lee and Sumter counties with his father, Rodney, raising corn, soybeans, wheat and watermelons. He said that until recently, they had farmed nearly twice that acreage and grew cotton and peanuts.
"We chose to cut our acreage and narrow our portfolio of crops," he said. "We started focusing on higher return on investment (ROI) per acre and higher yields per acre."
The Harrells employ a 3-to-1 rule when it comes to practices on the farm. "If it's not paying me back $3 for every $1 I spend, I'm more than likely not going to use it. If you're not making ROI, you're not making money."
While he admits what he does for contests doesn't pay the bills, he said that participating in yield contests, whether for soybeans or corn, has allowed him to evaluate both products and crop management techniques. He said others who strive for high yields -- including Dowdy and David Hula, the perennial corn yield contest winner from Charles City, Virginia -- have shown him what's possible.
"I'm actually in the Total Acre program that David and Randy got started," he said. "I'm down here in deep south Georgia in cotton and peanut country. So, when Randy, who's even farther south, set the record in 2016, it really opened my eyes to what's possible.
"I've got to give credit where credit is due," he continued. "Randy is definitely a mentor of mine. He gave me something to chase and strive after in Georgia. If he did it, I knew I could do it."
Jason Jenkins can be reached at [email protected]
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