Wisconsin has long been called America's Dairyland. But it's fast gaining a reputation for turning out super soybean yields, too.

In last year's Wisconsin Efficiency Contest, retired Whitewater dairy farmer Earl Findlay took top honors with a drilled 81-bu/acre yield He raises corn and soybeans with his crop consultant son-in-law, Tim Maloney.

They also had the contest's highest yield in 1997, with 73.4 bu/acre. Wisconsin's state average yield for '98 was 47 bu/acre - 1 bu shy of Iowa's, the nation's top.

High yield by itself isn't the end goal, of course. Profit is. But research shows yield is the single biggest factor in determining cost per bushel. Cost to produce the 81-bu/acre contest yield, including a land charge, was $2.75/bu. "It's like a high-producing dairy cow," notes Findlay. "It's high yield that makes the highest profit."

Maloney, owner of Agri-Tech Consulting at Janesville, calls the management shots for their soybean production. He shoots for high yields every year, recognizing that weather impacts final results.

The key to high yields: Doing all basics more effectively than most growers. All are important, but some more so, says Maloney. Early planting, 15" or narrower rows and top-notch weed control are musts.

Maloney's top concerns:

* Variety selection. "It's critically important," insists Maloney. "If you find the right varieties for your farm, they'll crank out yield hikes of 5, 10, even up to 15 bu/acre. I always look at multilocation yield results over a wide area. Choosing the right variety - considering yield data, defensive package and agronomic characteristics - takes some study." Dekalb's CX 232 was used for both winning yields.

* Inoculation. It may not apply in many states, but in northern states like Wisconsin, especially with early planting and no-till, inoculation pays. "I have shown in studies that inoculating every time you plant soybeans will pick up 2-3 bu per acre," says Maloney.

* Seed treatment. In cool, wet springs, fungicide seed treatment pays big, particularly under the tougher environment of no-till. "With fungicides running $1.50 to $1.80 per acre, you'll always get your money back, and often a lot more."* Soil pH. Maloney feels the foundation of good so il fertility is proper pH. For beans, he shoots for 6.5-6.8. Low soil pH greatly reduces fertilizer efficiency - and wastes money. "Whenever a farmer has a yield problem, the first thing I check is soil pH, and almost invariably it's too low," he says.

* Crop scouting. Maloney acknowledges that scouting soybeans after postemergence herbicides have been applied is a pain-in-the-neck chore. But he scouts beans every two weeks starting the end of July. He rates varieties for white mold tolerance, brown stem rot and SCN resistance, plus how they are maturing. "Besides knowing what an area is yielding, you need to know why," Maloney says.