"Arrival of the Soybean"

In the early thirties, when we were struggling to raise 35 to 40 bushel corn and 18 to 20 bushel wheat, along came the soybean. The first ones (black ebony and cowpeas) were raised for hay for the milk cows. They were sowed with a grain drill and then mowed when the beans had formed, but were still green, and they finished maturing in shocks. They were hard to raise and to get a good yield. If the ground crusted over after a heavy rain before they came up, oftentimes they would have to be replanted. Some of the first ones were plowed under as green manure to build up the soil.

When we first started raising them, we had to inoculate the seed with soil from a field that had grown beans. Soon a jelly-like substance was produced to inoculate all legumes. You had to dampen the seed to get the soil to stick to them. Sometimes this interfered with sowing. Soybeans were a new grain in Central Illinois and not many were produced. In the spring of 1928, four Pullman cars were parked on a sidetrack of the Illinois Central Railroad in Divernon, Illinois, showing all the products made from soybeans at that time. There was an attempt to get the farmers interested in them so as to plant them and produce more of them. At the time, no one ever thought that some day they would be one of our major crops. When the farmers started drilling (planting) corn, they soon started drilling soybeans in wide rows with the corn planter. Every year the seed companies came out with a new and better variety of seed. Increased yields came slow. Everyone tried to get better yields.

Our best yields have come in the last few years with semi-hybrid varieties. Early yields started in the 20-bushel range. Now you hear of some 60-bushel yields. When the farmers started raising soybeans, it required changing their crop rotation. Before, the crop rotation plans was corn, corn, oats, wheat, and clover hay and then plow under a heavy growth. Oats were used for feed for most of our farm animals. When the tractor came along, most farmers discontinued raising oats except for a cover crop on idle land. Soybeans took the place of most wheat and oats because they produced more income. Wheat and oats were also sown for a clover nurse crop. Commercial fertilizer has taken the place of the growing of legumes (and plowing under). This way they don't lose the use of the land for one season. Several years ago all top residue was burned so they could plow everything under. Now it's just the opposite. They want to leave the stalks and straw on top to stop erosion and help hold moisture. Since we have more chemicals to control the weeds several farmer are drilling the soybeans. Each year more and more farmers are trying the no-till method. If the weeds can be controlled, it might be the way to go. No-till saves a lot of tillage and helps stop most erosion.

Davey and Dean started no-till on our land in 1992. For quite a while, the dry weather looked like it would stunt their growth and keep the stand too thin. But it rained in time to give everything a boost. All the corn averaged 183 bushels per acre. Beans were 50 bushels per acre. Some corn went as high as 226 bushels per acre and soybeans as high as 53 bushels per acre.

The cool dry season kept the chemicals from working so we had some grass and weeds. To be successful with no-till you must get good results with chemicals. The cool weather kept the moisture from evaporating so a little went a long way. The yields were the best we have ever had with very little field work.

David W. Dickey, Sr.