Georgia soybean growers put $2.6 million more into their pockets this year thanks to a new management program.
"This is the simplest management program to help soybean farmers become more profitable that I've ever seen," said John Woodruff, an agronomist with the University of Georgia Extension Service.
What did farmers have to do to get the extra money? Just go through their fields one more time, in mid-August, applying soluble boron mixed with a pesticide called Dimilin.
That one-time application, Woodruff said, "can boost yields by three to, in the best cases, 10 bushels per acre."
With this year's prices hovering near $7 per bushel, that's a gain of $21 per acre or more.
Georgia farmers planted 400,000 acres of soybeans this year. They treated nearly one-third of that with the chemical mixture.
Woodruff said the farmers testing the program have nothing but praise. "It's not complicated, it's not expensive and it's not extremely time-critical," he said. "It is very profitable for the effort."
For several years, Gary Gascho, a researcher at the UGA Coastal Plain Experiment Station, worked to make soybean plants produce more and bigger pods.
The quarter-inch-round soybeans grow inside the pods. The more pods on a plant, the more beans it can produce.
Gascho found that boron, when applied just before the pods lengthen, makes them grow longer.
At the same time, other researchers and extension specialists were working to protect soybeans from hungry caterpillars.
"The caterpillars eat the leaves," said Randy Hudson, an Extension Service entomologist. "Then the plant can't make enough energy to produce the pods and beans."
One chemical, Dimilin, controls the caterpillars well, he said.
Hudson, Woodruff and Gascho worked together to find a way to make it easy for farmers to combine these chemicals in one application.
"It costs about $5 per acre to apply the boron-Dimilin mixture," Hudson said.
On-farm testing began in 1994. These tests verified research results.
Woodruff said farmers are more likely to believe test results if they can hear about it from other farmers. "It's not that they don't believe us," he said. "It's just that then they know it will work on their farm, too."
Hudson said the program could increase soybean profits in Georgia by $4 million to $5 million a year. "It produced such good results this year," he said, "we're hoping a lot more farmers will enroll next year."
What happens to all those soybeans? Woodruff said the average person comes across them eight or nine times every day.
Processors crush the beans for oil. Food processors use the soybean oil in crackers, cookies, salad oils and dressings, margarine, mayonnaise, soy milk and milk products, and many other processed foods. The oil is even used in cosmetics.
Livestock, including beef cattle, hogs and chickens, eat the meal that remains after the crushing and convert it to meat.
"Soybeans have more uses than many people even think about," Woodruff said.