(Photo credit: Joclyn Bushman/Iowa Soybean Association)

6 key takeaways from Innovation to Profit's virtual conference

March 9, 2023 | Kriss Nelson

As a response to the canceled Innovation to Profit Conference, the Iowa Soybean Association’s (ISA) Research Center for Farming Innovation (RCFI) presented research results and advances in crop protection during a webinar last week.

Agronomic Practices to Enhance Field Performance and Increase Profitability

As a part of their presentation focused on improving productivity in the field, Ryan Johnson, ISA conservation agronomist and Matt Carroll, analytics research scientist, emphasized management techniques and research results revolving around cover crops.

“Productivity, profitability and sustainability – that is what we are focused on at the Iowa Soybean Association,” says Ryan Johnson, ISA conservation agronomist.

As an example, Johnson reviewed a three-year study conducted by ISA that showed how simple changes in nitrogen management can significantly increase corn yield in a cover crop system.

In 2016, ISA began a long-term cover crop trial of 24 sites across the state, currently adding up to 108 site years.

Experiments were compared to no-till versus no-till with cover crop systems. Carroll summarized the findings, which included 87 of the 108 site years, which saw no significant yield difference with 21 sites with results of significant yield differences in both positive and negative yield gains. In some, but in not all cases, farmers followed recommended practices to optimize yield in cover crop systems.

  • Three sites with a yield loss in soybeans
  • Two sites with a yield gain in soybeans
  • Nine sites with a yield loss in corn
  • Seven sites with a yield gain in corn

“Across all site years, soybeans had a one bushel per acre significant difference in yield and corn saw no significant difference,” says Carroll. “If you remove the first year of cover crop implementation, the yield difference goes away. This shows that as you build and improve your cover crop management practice; you may see no differences in yields.”

There is more to consider than just yields when introducing cover crops into your farming operation.

“These results are only showing yield differences,” says Carroll. “Cover crops bring a lot of benefits, including water quality and erosion control. I don’t think any farmer out there would say they want soil going off f their field.”

Potential grazing opportunities and herbicide reduction are other advantages of adopting cover crops.

“In our long-term cover crop trial sites, we want to investigate weed species pressures that have had cover crops implemented on them for multiple years,” says Carroll.

Johnson says his family had nearly a $35 an acre reduction in herbicide costs on their cover crop acres over their non-cover crop fields.

“We used the biomass to help with weed control,” he says. “We terminated our cereal rye at 12 inches and that helped us suppress weeds.”


Last spring, some farmers planted their cash crops into living cover crops and terminated with glyphosate soon after planting. Due to cool weather, the glyphosate was slow in desiccation on and the cover crops continued to grow and become larger than is ideal for optimum cash crop yield. Here are three things we urge you to remember when terminating cover crops this season:

  1. Recognize that the addition of liquid nitrogen fertilizer or clay-based soil-applied herbicides can antagonize glyphosate and slow down termination;
  2. If you use tank mix partners with the termination pass, you will need to use the highest labeled rate of glyphosate to ensure optimum desiccation of the cover crop;
  3. In ISA studies, we have seen minimal benefit from liquid nitrogen applied with the termination pass, as it is lost to crop production unless rains occur soon after application.

When making an action plan to adopt cover crops into your farming operation, remember to remain flexible.

“Have a goal in place, do some research. You can make the game plan, but be ready to change and adapt,” says Johnson. “With the right management and assistance from ISA, cover crop adoption could be profitable.”                    

Advances In crop protection

Nelson provided a look into the future of crop protection and advice to help combat the battle of herbicide-resistant weeds.

Precision-guided spray technology is now available to farmers.
“This is camera-directed post-emergence spray technology where a camera detects the weeds, turning on the sprayer when it sites a weed,” says Nelson. “University studies have shown this works, dramatically reducing the amount of post-emergence herbicides.”

Nelson added he urges all farmers to become familiar with this technology as it will affect them within the next five years.

Pre-emergence performance of water hemp in soybeans

Nelson says soil-applied Group 14 herbicides are important to delay herbicide weed resistance – specifically waterhemp.

“We are running out of options in fighting our waterhemp war, and we need to keep these viable in our production,” he says.

Soil-applied Group 14 herbicides have injured soybeans when applied to sensitive genetics and in cool or wet weather.

Nelson advises to apply Group 14 herbicides 10 days before planting to avoid injury and to plant-tolerant genetics.

Soybean gall midge

Soybean gall midge spread to eight new counties in 2022. This pest lays its eggs in soybeans’ stems, resulting in plant death.

Soybean Checkoff dollars have enabled screening to identify host plant resistance. This has identified some leads, but in the meantime, it is crucial to find an alternative method to combat this pest.

Seed treatments and foliar insecticides are not effective. What we can do to help fight the pest that has reduced yields by nearly 70% along the edges of a soybean field?

Nelson says research has shown utilizing the in-furrow insecticide Thimet while planting soybeans in 60- to 120-foot border can be beneficial.

“This may not eliminate the pest, but it can protect the interior of the field,” he says. “It does not make soybean gall midge go away, but slows them down and reduces populations.”

RCFI research involved measuring untreated and Thimet-treated areas of a soybean field. Results showed a yield increase of four bushels yield advantage in the Thimet treated areas.

“If you are in a situation where you consistently have soybean gall midge, Thimet is not the solution, but it is a band-aid to use,” says Nelson.

Creating an action plan

Now is the time to take this information and begin building out your action plan.

“How can we best help you and help move the soybean industry forward,” says Roger Wolf, RCFI co-director of conservation and cropping systems. “We work to figure out how best we can engage the farmers we serve and work for and put a leadership proposition in front of these issues – particularly in the production of management efficiency, producing a profitable crop. That’s a big part of why we exist, and we are so proud to work on behalf of Iowa soybean farmers.”