Corn+Soybean Digest

Soybean Yields Lag Behind Corn

America's two leading field crops, corn and soybeans, yield more grain today than they did 75 years ago. But while corn has taken giant leaps forward in average bushels/acre, soybean yields have advanced in baby steps.

Between 1930 and 2003, average corn yields jumped nearly sevenfold, from 20.5 bu./acre to 142.2 bu./acre. In that same period, average soybean yields didn't quite triple, from 13 bu./acre to 33.4 bu./acre. National soybean yields have hovered around 40 bu./acre for about a decade.

Why the widening yield gap between corn and soybeans? There are many reasons, say Purdue University agronomists Jeff Volenec and Scott Jackson. Among them: genetic differences between the two crops and greater attention paid to corn research.

“We're looking at about a 0.4 bu./acre/year average increase for soybeans. For corn it's 1.5 bu./acre/year,” says Volenec, crop physiology professor. “Will soybeans equal the annual increase in corn yields in the near future? No. Can we improve on the 0.4 bu./acre/year? Yes.”

Collaborative research by crop geneticists, physiologists, agronomists and breeders could boost soybean yield potential, Volenec says. However, researchers aren't likely to increase average soybean yields more than a few tenths of a bushel in the next 10 years, and may never be able to place the oilseed on a similar yield growth track as corn.

The challenge for researchers continues to be cracking the unique genetic makeup of the soybean plant.

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