Renewable Farming

How Jim Porterfield grew the highest-quality soybeans in a United Soybean Board study

We at Renewable Farming applauded a United Soybean Board’s 2019 soybean quality research project which invited Illinois soybean growers to send in samples for feed value testing. Such research could eventually link soybean market appeal to soil quality and production practices, helping Illinois farmers improve feed value and gain export markets.

Aug. 3, 2020 — Farmers sent 367 samples from their 2019-crop soybeans to a University of Minnesota testing lab, which measured 18 amino acids essential for feed value.

The Soybean Board is preparing a news release on the results, but here’s the “rest of the story” directly from the grower who had the highest combined average of the 18 amino acid measures tested.

We couldn’t summarize the story better than the producer, Jim Porterfield, a certified crop advisor who owns a field research farm near Martinsville, Illinois. Here is a memo which Jim sent to a United Soybean Board freelance news writer, Joann Pipkin, for her upcoming USB news release:

Soybean meal photo courtesy of United Soybean Board

By James Porterfield

Whose soybeans came out on top of the heap in Illinois from the 367 samples submitted in 2019 for tests conducted for Livestock Feed Value by the University of Minnesota for the United Soybean Board?

Well, it wasn’t a big commodity grower, with fancy GPS precise planting equipment using the latest GMO hybrid and loaded up with the latest weed killers, bug sprays and fungicides on the “good soils” of central Illinois. Quite the opposite, as you will see if you dare to read on.

To put it simply, the soybean sample with the highest quality livestock feed value in Illinois came from a field that had organic seed no-tilled into weedy sod just to see if my planter could do no-till. 
The highest rated sample for amino acids for livestock feed in Illinois came from here in Clark County — on “poor” soils of southeast Illinois.  Out of the 18 amino acid categories, my sample was highest in the state in nine categories and tied for the top in three others.
If you read Weeds, Guardians of the Soil by Joseph Cocannouer, perhaps you will begin to understand why this occurred. In a word, Diversity.
My small 7-acre small plot research farm is not certified organic, but I use certified organic seed.  I avoid herbicides, insecticides and fungicides whenever possible. Becks Great Harvest GH291 soybeans were planted June 5 and harvested October 4th. The 3-point mounted planter is an old John Deere 7000 cut down from a 6-row pull type planter.
The field had been rested for two years with multi-species cover crops of which mostly sorghum sudan survived and was mowed down.  Foxtail, waterhemp, red root pigweed and other “weeds” were “co-located” rather thickly throughout the plot.  
Weed control was accomplished by running a walk-behind string trimmer between the rows three times.  Bean plants were short and the stand was poor. When we pulled in to harvest that field, the combine operator asked if I wanted to check for yield. I said “No, just combine it, but I will pull a sample out of the load cell just to see what’s in the beans.”
The amino acids in this sample averaged out in the 99.7th percentile of all samples submitted in the U.S. 
My other two high ranking samples were also planted with the same Becks GH291 organic seed. But they came from a field that had full width tillage with a tractor mounted rototiller. They were hand weeded, fenced to keep deer out and foliared three times with Accelerate. The plot with the solar powered electric fence and drip irrigation averaged 60.6 bu/ac but had the lowest amino acid rating of my three samples, but still ranked in the top 97th percentile compared to all the samples submitted across the U.S. 
The plot that was fenced, but the fence was not electrified and was not drip irrigated, had the second best amino acid profile of the three samples. Again, no herbicides, insecticides or fungicides were applied. Still, that area averaged 57.9 bu/ac, which is not bad if they had been certified organic.  It also beat all other soybean samples from Illinois in three categories and tied for the top in four others. Nationally, its amino acids averaged in the 98.7th percentile. 
A bit of perspective: I found a paper by Karr and Lilienthal (2004) where they reported amino acid averages for soybean samples from the United States and China. All three of my 2019 samples would have handily beaten 17 out of 18 averages reported in 2004 for the U.S. soybeans.
Illinois’s 2019 averages in the USB study would have beaten the 2004 averages in 13 of the 18 categories, so we are moving in the right direction for livestock feed. However, against China’s soybeans my three samples in 2019 would have beaten China’s averages from that 2004 report in only 4 of 18 categories (Lysine, Threonine, Proline and Serine.) And, Illinois’s 2019 averages would have placed ahead of China’s 2004 averages in only one category (Proline). 
The U.S. averages from 2019 would have beaten China’s 2004 averages in only one category.  The highest numbers measured in all soybeans in the U.S. in 2019 would have beaten China’s 2004 averages in only 7 of the 18 categories.  
The bottom line is we have a way to go to improve the livestock feed value of Illinois and U.S. soybeans.
Best Regards,
Jim Porterfield, CCA
Watershed/Water Quality Specialist
Ideal Soil Consultant
4000 E Snake Trail Rd
Martinsville, IL 62442
708-714-0746 cell
You can download a PDF sheet from this link showing the quality criteria involved in the “Hy+Q” program evaluating soybean quality. 
You can also review the feed value scores of soybeans in the study, listed by brand and number, by visiting the PDF document at this link.