J.W. Spencer grew his winning soybeans on rented land that is for the birds - literally. Included in Spencer's 1,100 acres of corn, beans, cotton and wheat is a 40-acre duck impoundment that the owner floods every fall for duck hunting.

That is where he harvested his 74.7-bu soybean yield - tops in the 1997 North Carolina Soybean Most-Efficient Yield Contest.

"It's really some of the sorrier land I've got," says Spencer, who farms with his son, Chad, near Swan Quarter. "The beans looked good, but not great.

"When I saw how fast the truck was filling up for the acres I had harvested, I called in the weigh wagon. It's the first time I've entered the contest."

But Mac Gibbs, associate ag extension agent at Swan Quarter, says it was more than luck that made Spencer a winner.

"He's a calculated risk-taker and hard worker," says Gibbs. "He recognizes the value of trying new things without putting the whole farm in it."

That calculated risk for Spencer was planting Group III soybeans in an area where Group V and Group VI beans are standard.

"We're in a unique situation where our conditions are more like the Midwest than any other area," he says. "It's similar to southern Illinois."

With Group III soybeans, Spencer starts harvesting about two weeks earlier and reaps a market bonus at his local elevator.

"It's supply and demand," he says. "The elevator has paid as high as 90 cents over the Chicago Board of Trade futures price for our Group III beans right off the combine. And, when we start harvest in early September, we also have an extra two hours of sunlight."

That's important, because living close to the ocean means bean stalks get tough shortly after sunset.

So, how did Spencer plant a part-time duck pond to soybeans?

In March he disked and rolled the 40-acre field, then left it alone until planting. After spraying the field with 1 qt of Roundup, Spencer drilled 65 lbs/acre of either Roundup Ready or STS soybeans in 8" rows. After emergence he applied the appropriate postemergent herbicide.

"We don't plant any conventional beans," says Spencer. "We are in an area where you can name a weed and we've got it. We plant STS beans for dayflower control. Roundup isn't very effective against dayflower."

The contest-winning beans were Southern States 381, an STS variety.

Another challenge: Growing the crop on land that varies from heavy black soils with very high organic matter to fields that he describes as "gritty sand and clay." Still, he averages close to 45 bu/acre.

"I think the two most important decisions you make are variety selection and plant population," he says. "Your final stand is critical. It can be too thick as well as too thin."