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Benchmarking Soybean Production Systems in the North-Central USA
Tue - July 26, 2016
Soybean area is shown in green.
Soybean area is shown in green.
by Patricio Grassini, Cropping System Extension Specialist, University of Nebraska, and Shawn Conley, Soybean and Wheat Extension Specialist, University of Wisconsin

From 2010-2014, the average soybean yield in the north-central region was 43 bushels/acre. Yet some producers can consistently attain soybean yields near or greater than 80 bushels/acre. This large gap between average yield and the very high yield obtained by some producers needs to be explored and better understood.

Currently, the most common approach to identify yield-limiting factors in producer fields involves conducting on-farm trials, in which inputs or management practices are selectively applied in experimental plots and evaluated for their effect on yield and cost-effectiveness.

An alternative method is the use of producer self-reported yield and crop management data. This approach can be used to (1) evaluate current on-farm management relative to recommended optimal practices, and (2) discern the yield impact of individual factors, and their relative importance, in the context of commercial-scale fields and the actual management practices being used by producers. When hundreds of such producer reports are available, we can begin to identify the factors that prevent most producers from attaining yields closer to the yield potential — whether these are site-specific soil or weather conditions or less-than-optimal crop management practices.

In the first few months of a 3-year regional collaborative project funded by the North Central Soybean Research Program, we have collected producer self-reported data from 3,386 fields on 311,300 acres across 10 states (NE, WI, OH, MI, IA, IN, MN, KS, IL, and ND). These states account for 70% of US soybean production and 25% of global soybean production.

We have developed polygon maps with soils and weather data for each of these 3,386 fields and performed a few initial analyses. We have found that, contrary to popular belief, narrow row spacing (<22 inches) in soybean is still prevalent across the Midwest. Most farmers are dropping 140,000 to 180,000 soybean seeds per acre. Very few farmers are using a starter fertilizer, but most are using some form of a seed treatment. We also found that very few farmers know if SCN is present in their fields. Click here for a graphical overview of all the initial 2016 data.

Results from the surveys will be presented to producers at winter extension events throughout the region to provide a “benchmark” of their individual soybean yields and production practices, compared to an aggregate number of similar producers in their area. We hope to identify key management factors in each state (and across the north-central region) that can be used by individual producers to increase soybean yield on their farms, and to do that with an input-use efficiency that will improve net profit.

Please contact your county or state extension specialist about winter meeting events. We will continue to post results from this project on this website and in university Extension newsletters and websites.

If you would like to participate in this study, please contact us at  or A survey form is available here.

For background information on soybean yield potential and yield gaps, please see the following publications:
Grassini P, Torrion JA, Yang HS, Rees J, Andersen D, Cassman KG, Specht JE, 2015. Soybean yield gaps and water productivity in the western U.S. Corn Belt. Field Crops Researxh 179: 150-163.

Grassini P, Rees J, Specht, J, Cafaro La Menza N. 2016. What does it take to produce 80 bu/ac soybean? Extension Circular 3000. University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Specht, JE, Diers BW, Nelson RL, Toledo JF, Torrion JA, Grassini P, 2014. Soybean. In: Smith JSC, Carver B, Diers BW, Specht JE (Eds.), Yield Gains in Major US Field Crops: Contributing Factors and Future Prospects. Crop Science Society of America Special Publication #33.

Specht, JE, Hume, DJ, Kumudini, SV, 1999. Soybean yield potential - A genetic and physiological perspective. Crop Science 39: 1560-1570