Kip Cullers, U.S. Soybean King, Seeks an Edge with John Deere Technology

Aug. 08 - Kip Cullers, celebrity farmer and current world record holder for soybean yields, has added the latest John Deere water-delivery system on one of his fields as he makes a run for another record.

Cullers farms in southwest Missouri, where irrigation is seldom used because soils are generally shallow and offer low productivity. But Cullers has developed a unique high-yield niche there thanks to some exceptional soils and his innovative management practices. He set his third world record in soybean yields last fall, harvesting 160.6 bushels per acre, nearly four times the national average.

Cullers was profiled recently on Time.com about several test plots he hopes will give him another edge in soybean production. He’s hoping a combination of a skilled agricultural management team and highly effective agronomic tools will provide the edge this year.

Always up for a challenge, Cullers asked John Deere Water to help him design and install the latest water delivery system on one of his fields. Cullers wanted to test different soybean irrigation systems in a head-to-head comparison. “This is a learning year,” he told Time. “I never learn from my success—I learn from my failures.”

Cullers has achieved his fame from high-yielding corn and soybean contest plots, which he calls his hobby. This allows him to refine his secret brew of fertilizer, fungicide, and plant-growth regulators to help push back the yield barrier. He also farms 10,000 commercial corn acres and 350 acres of soybeans. This year’s effort is to compare three water delivery systems, namely drip irrigation, overhead pivot irrigation, and dryland production. The three plots are located in a single 80-acre field, where Cullers holds other variables, such as plant variety, row spacing, and soil type, constant among the plots.

“To help Cullers find his edge, we needed to build an irrigation system that would optimize his unique production system,” says James Dutton, regional sales manager, John Deere Water. “By using all available John Deere technologies, such as machine optimization, drip irrigation, and wireless CropSense agronomic technology, we’ve helped him find an integrated solution.”

Higher soybean plants in part of Kip Cullers’ contest plots where John Deere installed T-Tape drip irrigation show the advantages of irrigation and the CropSense Soil Moisture Monitor shown near the irrigated plants.

John Deere Principle Scientist and Senior Agronomist Tom Doerge agrees. “The drip system will give Cullers more control than ever before over field inputs such as irrigation sets and application of crop care products,” Doerge says. “It allows him to basically spoon-feed his super-secret formula directly into the root zone of his soybean plants and possibly give him the edge he is looking for.” Cullers observes his test plots daily with the wireless John Deere CropSense Soil Moisture Management system. This includes both the soil moisture-measuring field technology and agronomic consulting. He plans to report yields soon after harvest in late September or early October.

So far, it’s going well. More blooms on the plant translate into more soybeans and Cullers told Time that the plants in the drip field “are blooming their butts off.” Even though this year’s crop is looking very good, Cullers and the John Deere agronomic and sales management team aren’t quite ready to claim success yet—but all are optimistic.

Whether or not Cullers beats his world record, the Missouri Soybean Association sees him as a role model. In fact, they are launching a program to challenge every Missouri soybean farmer to increase yield per acre by 10 bushels in 2012.

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