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Field projects in 2024: Yield contest, cover crops and soil health

Categories: WSMB, WSPPublished On: May 20, 20242.7 min read

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2024 is well underway, and the UW-Extension team is hard at work performing research and maximizing the returns on investment for Wisconsin soybean growers. Dr. Shawn Conley, a soybean specialist with UW-Extension, has his hands full with a variety of projects, such as the upcoming yield contest, a new soil health initiative and cover crop research.

2024 Yield Contest

The Wisconsin Soybean Yield Contest is back again this year! Over the years, this contest has seen increasing participation thanks to the involvement of seed advisors. The yield contest offers new categories and opportunities for farmers. Furthermore, seed dealers and agronomists are encouraged to participate in the contest through financial incentives, aiming to boost program participation and outcomes. Anyone wishing to participate in this year’s contest has until August 31 to enter. See WISoybean.org for contest entry and details 

Sustainable farming with healthy soil

In addition to the yield contest, Dr. Shawn Conley is also focused on a new soil health project, aimed at improving the sustainability of farming practices in Wisconsin. This project encourages farmers to send in soil samples, production practice surveys and yield data for analysis. This initiative seeks to identify soil health metrics that correlate with soybean yield and to discover management strategies that can improve soil health, noting positive effects from long-term cover cropping. The project aims to go beyond soil composition testing by evaluating various farming systems, including those using cover crops or conservation tillage, to scientifically support the benefits of such practices. Dr. Conley hopes that the results of this project will lead to market incentives for farmers implementing sustainable practices and will ensure that these incentives truly benefit farmers through improved yields or financial support for adopting these practices.

Cover crops: Learning from the drought year

Wisconsin growers faced many challenges last year due to a drought. Dr. Conley learned quite a bit about farming in a year marked by severe drought and how these insights can influence farming practices in the future, particularly concerning the use of cover crops. Last year’s drought conditions resulted in a significant yield reduction for some, with a specific instance where failing to terminate a cover crop in a timely manner led to a 40 bushel per acre yield loss due to insufficient water for seed germination. This situation, along with the experiences of other growers across the state, underlines the importance of timely cover crop termination, especially before planting seasons and in anticipation of dry spells, in order to prevent yield losses. These experiences also showcase adaptive strategies and communication efforts, like using social media and collaborative platforms to advise farmers on best practices based on weather conditions and soil moisture levels. 

As we move through 2024, it’s evident that the collective efforts of Wisconsin’s soybean growers, aided by the research from UW-Extension and support from the WSMB are integral to not just confronting the immediate challenges but also securing a more resilient and prosperous agricultural future. These projects, funded by soybean checkoff dollars are intended to give back to local growers and help them have a successful growing season.

To learn more about this year’s field projects, visit Dr. Shawn Conley’s website at coolbean.info, or view other research resources at wisoybean.org/wsmb/research.