Record-setting corn, soybean farmer urges area farmers to try new ideas

Tuesday, December 18, 2007
Kip Cullers of Purdy spoke to the Santa Fe Agri-leaders on Monday, Dec. 10, about his record-setting soybean yields. Cullers raised soybeans that yielded 154 bushels per acre, breaking his own world record of 139 bushels per acre set in 2006. (Marcia Gorrell/Democrat-News)

Missouri farmer and soybean yield world record holder Kip Cullers has become enough of a celebrity that he has started a speaking tour. He's found it impossible to keep up with all the visitors to his large farming operation, K&K Farms, located in Newton and Barry counties.

"We have lots of people who think, 'by gosh he's pretty close to Branson, or the lake, we'll just stop by and see that crazy guy that raises those high-yield soybeans,'" he said.

Cullers spoke to a group of farmers in Alma on Monday, Dec. 10, at Santa Fe High School as part of the Santa Fe Agri-Leaders meeting held Monday, Dec. 10.

Cullers' fame has grown since he grew 154 bushels-per-acre soybeans in a contest plot on his farm near Purdy in 2007, eclipsing his own 139 bushels-per-acre record from the year before.

He also participates in corn yield contests and raised 347 bushels-per-acre corn on his test plots in 2006. By comparison, the average soybean yield in Missouri in 2006 was just 38 bushels per acre, while the average corn yield was 138 bushels per acre.

Cullers grows more than 5,000 acres of soybeans, corn and wheat, and vegetables from green beans to spinach on the farm, which is located in a unique flat area "between the rocks and the hills" in southwest Missouri.

The soil type is Newtonia Red, a unique sandy silt loam, which drains extremely well. "It's perfect for contests because it warms up really nice in the spring and dries up really nice," he said. However, those same traits "haunt" the area in the hot, dry Missouri summers, which is why they irrigate most of their acres.

Cullers said he hoped that, if nothing else, the farmers at the meeting would be willing to go out and try new ideas on their fields, after hearing him speak.

"Keep in mind what I've been doing may not necessarily work for you. Go home and see what works for you," he said.

Cullers describes the input costs on his contest fields as a "sinful amount."

He also admits that the costs and extra work he puts on his test plots, which he checks up to 3 times a day, may not be cost-effective.

However, many of the things he has tried on his test plots have proved to be cost-effective on his regular soybean fields -- especially with increased soybean prices.

This year Cullers' regular soybean fields, which were all double-cropped behind green beans and wheat, yielded 74 bushels per acre. They were all planted between June 25 and July 23. Of those, 50 percent were irrigated and 50 percent were dryland.

Cullers said one of the keys to raising high yields in soybeans is keeping the plants "happy and stress-free."

"The day you plant them they have the potential to yield 1,400 bushels an acre according to the number of blooms they put on," he said, adding from that day the yield only goes downhill.

Among his tips are to plant the best genetics for your area.

In his case, he plants Pioneer 94M80 beans, which are best suited to the heavy irrigation his test plots receive. In corn, he also plants Pioneer seed and uses Herculex yield guard seed on 80 percent of his acres, which he calls a "cheap insurance policy."

In soybeans, Cullers stressed planting large seeds, an idea he said makes seed dealers "cringe."

His average seed size was 2275 on the Pioneer 94M80's in his record-setting test plot.

"What I learned in green beans is big seed produces big beans. And it's true on soybeans, and I'll argue that point all day long, everyday," he said.

Cullers also suggests using Optimize, a new soybean growth promoter, on soybeans. Optimize is a natural bacterial compound that accelerates and enhances early season soybean vigor developed by Nitragin, Inc.

"We used Optimize this year for the first time," he said. In a side-to side comparison the treatment helped promote feeder root growth. "You are going to pull 95 percent of your nutrients out of the top 4 inches of soil of row crop," he said, adding the more feeder roots you get out there, the more nutrients the plant can take up, which transfers back to yield.

"If you're having your seed treated, this is one of those no-brainers," he said. "I'm not saying do it on every acre, but it is something you ought to look at and see if it works for you."

He also suggests using fungicides on crops, noting they pick up 15 to 25 bushels of yield in corn by using one six-ounce application of HeadlineŽ fungicide on the corn. Cullers also uses six ounces of HeadlineŽ fungicide on each acre of his production soybeans. "I don't know that on normal acres, unless you had a problem, you would ever need more than that."

On his contest fields, Cullers uses two nine-ounce applications, because of the added disease potential.

Cullers also used three ounces of Respect fungicide on his production soybeans. He encouraged the farmers to test using some of the fungicides.

"Just don't do your whole farm, just do some small fields or small strips," he said. "Using fungicides is one of the easiest things to pick up yields on corn or soybeans," he said.

Cullers also said weeds in the field were a big yield-robber, saying that compared to the yield loss, spraying Round-Up-Ready beans twice was inexpensive. "Last year we were buying glysophate for $9 a gallon. If you put two quarts on, that was $4.50. When you spray it twice that's $9 bucks," he said, adding that before Round-Up-Ready weed control was a lot more expensive.

For fertilizer Cullers applies three tons of chicken litter, readily available in his area, on his non-contest soybean fields.

This year on his contest acres, he used a twin-row vegetable planter to plant his beans and corn. It plants two rows, 21 inches apart, with nine inches between each pair of twin rows. On his contest fields, he plants soybean population at 250,000 seeds per acre and 170,000 to 180,000 in regular fields. On his cornfields, Cullers plants no less than 32,000 population on his dryland corn and no less than 44,000 on his irrigated acres.

He explained that the companies select hybrids from high plant populations.

"These hybrids are bred for this, they've been selected for this, so do some population studies on your farm."

On the soybean field that set the record, he planted the soybeans on April 30 and they were already blooming on May 29.

Cullers also said he uses boron, iron and manganese on his contest soybean fields in order to increase the chlorophyll levels of the plants. For the boron, he uses 2 to 3 ounces of the commercial cleaner Borax, applying it with a fungicide to provide boron for the soil.

"What we are trying to do is make everything darker green to raise chlorophyll levels," he said.

He also uses humus on his contest acres. He said humus helps keep moisture in the soil and slows down nitrogen intake. The contest fields are irrigated, along with many of his other fields, and he said one of the keys to irrigation is to use it liberally, not letting the soybeans get too dry or stressed.

"A happy plant wants to yield."

He applies 0.3 of an inch of water to his irrigated acres every day, increasing that amount when the temperature tops 100 degrees, when they water an extra time.

"We put on 0.3 early in the morning and come back late in the afternoon with 0.1, just to cool them off and try to maintain pods and blooms," he said, adding that they had no rain between July 6 and Aug. 23 this year.

Cullers said he seldom gets to drive his equipment, including the combine, although he did combine the record-winning field. Instead, Cullers puts 40,000 miles a year on his pickup driving from field to field checking on his crops. He walks each field at least once a day in order to head off problems before they start.

"Our vegetables ... can become a non-usable product at the snap of a finger," he said, explaining that if worms get inside the green beans Cullers won't even pick them, instead making them a very expensive "green manure crop."

"I try to prevent problems from ever arising."

Cullers, who said he has planted almost every kind of vegetable -- "you name a vegetable and I've probably grown it" -- said he prefers growing corn and soybeans as opposed to the green beans, spinach and greens he also grows.

"They are really, really labor intense, high management and high stress," he said, explaining that he has 23 tractors, and many laborers, including temporary immigrant labor.

Cullers said that while university scientists have been trying to find ways to cut input costs, an idea he understands in light of $5 and $6 soybeans, he said his approach has been just the opposite.

"I like to see how fast the car drives," he said.

In fact, next year Cullers is planning on revamping the whole contest plot because he has a goal of raising the record-setting soybeans on a shorter plant. He had tried to do that for the 2007 contest, but said they "messed up" with the plants reaching heights closer to six feet tall stretched out. His goal is to raise beans that stand approximately 38 to 42 inches tall, with stout stalks.

"They may not set any pods, but they are not going to get over this tall (38-42 inches), and they are going to stand like miniature trees out there," he said.

"Once we get that accomplished, then we'll figure out how to set on pods."

Contact Marcia Gorrell at

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