When his neighbors pulled an 86.45 bu/acre yield out of their contest plot, Jeff Steinhoff almost gave up on his own beans.

"I figured nobody was going to top that," says Steinhoff, of St. Charles, MO. "We were ready to move to another farm, and I thought about just harvesting our contest plot with what we had left."

The wait for a weigh wagon, however, paid off. Steinhoff's soybeans came in at 88.8 bu/acre, outyielding his neighbors' plot, which finished second in the 1997 Missouri Soybean Association yield contest.

Steinhoff grows 1,200 acres of corn, soybeans and wheat with his parents, Clarence and Marilyn Steinhoff, and his wife, Christine. He credits several production changes and timely rains with pushing yields towardthe 90-bu mark.

"Several years ago, we started to increase our fertilizer and seed rates," he says. "We have been shooting for a yield goal of 60 bushels. But after this year, I think we're going to fertilize for 65 to 70 bushels."

In the early 1990s, the Steinhoffs began soil testing every three years and applying the high end of corn fertility recommendations. They fall-apply fertilizer after soybean harvest on fields to be rotated to corn the following year.

"Our fertilizer dealer tells us that the beans get the most benefit from fertilizer the year after it's applied," says Steinhoff. "We have been really conscientious about our fertility program, and it has paid off big time."

The Steinhoffs also boosted corn populations to 29,000 on their good ground and upped soybean populations to 215,000.

"I made a mistake on our contest plot and ended up planting 230,000 seeds/acre of Stein 3870. I think next year we will look at increasing our population to 220,000 or 230,000 on our better ground."

He uses university test results to help select several new soybean cyst nematode (SCN)-resistant and non-resistant varieties each year.

"We plant SCN-resistant varieties on lighter soils that traditionally have been planted to beans, fields with a history of continuous soybean production, or fields where we've seen SCN damage," he says. "When we rent new ground, we start rotating with corn to reduce SCN numbers."

Steinhoff credits part of his success to compaction control.

"We shred cornstalks in the fall, then either disk or rip fields. We also run a field cultivator over those acres in the fall to level them for planting. When we plant, the soil is nice and firm, so we get a good seed slot to plant into."

When the Steinhoffs used to work soil in spring, it sometimes would turn dry and fluffy, preventing good seed-to-soil contact and slowing emergence.

In spring, Steinhoff puts on soil-applied herbicides with an ATV mini-floater, then waits until the first week in May to plant. Last year, he applied 3 pints of Steel and 1/2 pint of Prowl, then followed with postemergent Status at 16-24 oz/acre, depending on weed size.

"In this area, the earlier you plant corn the better," he says. "But I don't want to even think about planting a bean before May 6. We can raise good beans even when we plant as late as the first week in June.

The Steinhoffs drill their beans in 7.5" rows and figure that adds 4-7 bu/acre to their yields.