Research Highlights

Research Highlights
South Dakota Research Project for Higher Soybean Yields Grows and Evolves

Students in SDSU classes, such as the “Precision Agriculture Data Mapping and the Use of Soil and Plant Sensors in Crop Production” course, learn how to accurately collect information and data from farms involved in the university’s on-farm trials. Photos: Cheryl Reese

By Carol Brown

Soybean farmers across the country continue to strive for higher yields. With researchers advancing soybeans through breeding, testing and trials, farmer productivity has come a long way. But there’s always room for improvement.

An ongoing research project in South Dakota, “Achieving 100 Bushel/Acre Soybean Yields,” continues to evolve as farmer feedback and findings change. David Clay, distinguished soil science professor at South Dakota State University, leads the project supported by the South Dakota Soybean Checkoff.

The project’s main objective is supporting tailored on-farm research, where Clay works with farmers across the state to conduct trials on topics of the farmer’s choosing. But this objective is intertwined with another aspect: involving SDSU students. Involving students helps them learn how to conduct these experiments, understand the parameters of each trial and improve their communication skills. Cheryl Reese, senior lecturer in the SDSU agronomy department, oversees this portion of the project.

“In the agronomy capstone class — which all agronomy and precision ag majors must take —students divide into teams and choose what research project they want to work on,” explains Reese. “They are required to complete 24 hours of field work, which entails going to the farmer’s field and working on their trials with faculty and graduate students.”

The students give final presentations at the end of the course, and Reese invites the farmers involved to campus to hear the presentations. This offers more interaction between students and farmers, yet another advantage to this arrangement. Students are also offered the opportunity to learn about data processing, yield monitor analysis, and remote sensing data collected from the on-farm trials in other courses.

“By introducing students to the on-farm trials in the classroom, they begin to feel comfortable doing this with farmers,” Clay says. “This will help them after graduation, when they work for businesses like an agricultural cooperative.” 

Clay and Reese have seen the number of farmers involved with the on-farm trials increase over the last few years. In 2022, there were 31 farmers conducting 71 trials, and 15 of those farmers were new to the program. In 2023, 17 farms have experiments designed to improve soil health, 12 farms have different biological product evaluations, and 17 farms have tests for plant populations, fungicides and products designed to improve productivity.

For each project, the farmer selects what they want to investigate and SDSU faculty helps them develop the plan and conduct the experiment. Findings from each study are posted on the South Dakota Soybean On-Farm Research Program website. The on-farm trial project funding has also been leveraged with partial funding through a federal NRCS grant. 

The on-farm trial results, combined with analysis from the annual South Dakota High Yield Contest, provide clues on how to improve soybean yields. Reese has presented information from these trials at several South Dakota Soybean Checkoff Shop Talks held throughout the year.

“I’ve presented trends that have been observed over the last decade of data collected from the high yield contest and the on-farm trials,” says Reese. “Farmers are very interested and it spurs a lot of questions about their own management. They wonder what they could be doing differently on their farm to increase yield.”

In addition to the Shop Talks, Reese presented at last year’s annual Soy100 event, sponsored by the South Dakota Soybean Checkoff. She is scheduled to speak again at the 2024 event, which will be held on March 4, in Brookings. For more information about these events, visit the checkoff’s Programs and Events page.

Published: Jan 29, 2024

The materials on SRIN were funded with checkoff dollars from United Soybean Board and the North Central Soybean Research Program. To find checkoff funded research related to this research highlight or to see other checkoff research projects, please visit the National Soybean Checkoff Research Database.