By Dusty Sonnenberg, CCA, Ohio Field Leader, a project of the Ohio Soybean Council and soybean check-off.
Located in the Muskingum River Watershed, Jonah Neill farms with his father Steve outside of Waterford, Ohio. Neill Farms focuses on high management and high yielding crops. “In the past 10 years since I came back from college, we have seen our average farm yields increase of over 20 bushel per acre for soybeans, and in the range of 30-35 bushels per acre for corn,” said Jonah Neill. “I think we still have room to improve.”
Neill Farms is a crop and livestock operation raising 70 cow-calf pairs and feeding out 200 head of fat cattle each year. They also raise corn, soybeans, wheat and hay. Given the topography of Washington County, the fields are much smaller in size than what is found in many other parts of the state. “Our average field size is between 10-15 acres,” said Neill. “Our largest field is 35 acres, and we consider it the big field. There are a lot of hills, which is why we own a sidehill combine. That really tells the story of what our fields are like.”
While the acres may be relatively small, the yields are relatively large compared to the state average. In 2021, Ohio’s average soybean yield was 56.5 bushels per acre, and the state average corn yield was 198 bushels per acre. Neill Farms has raised over 100 bushels per acre soybeans the past two years and have also had corn yields over 280 bushels per acre. “We pay a lot of attention to detail,” said Neill. “We are making multiple passes across the crop to get the nutrients into the crop. We are not just feeding more fertilizer to the crop, but we are getting the nutrients that we have already applied into the crop as it is growing.”
Neill has a toolbox full of innovative ideas to accomplish nutrient uptake and efficiency on their farm. “There are a lot of tools we can use to get the nutrients into the crop,” said Neill. “Biologicals are a huge thing. There are nutrient efficiency uptakes that occur with biologicals. We use Verdesian products. They have a lot of products that fit on our farm, and they are a well-known company we feel comfortable with.” Verdesian offers nutritional seed treatment and inoculant technologies, as well as other biostimulant products to increase nutrient use efficiency in crops.
Jonah’s interest in high management and attention to detail in crop production started after college when he worked in the retail industry for Winfield Solutions on their Answer Plot crew. He now works as a sales agronomist for Heritage Cooperative. The experience helped him learn the importance of paying attention to the details and feeding the crop rather than feed the soil. “As you look at the trend line yields on our farm, our fertilizer requirements have not gone up, and we have not increased our fertility amounts. We just try to do a good job getting those nutrients into the plant,” said Neill.
Neill still sees room for improvement in his soybean crop. “Not a lot of people put a focus on increasing soybean yields, but I enjoy them even though we don’t raise a lot of them. We start with a strong in-furrow program. We just use water as the carrier for the micros, we don’t use fertilizer on the soybeans. We include micronutrients and biologicals with the herbicide pass that we make in mid-June before the beans hit the reproductive stage. We will make additional follow-up passes as the season goes on that will include more micos and biologicals. We also pull tissue samples multiple times to see what the crop needs. By the end, we will make three passes over the emerged beans, along with the in-furrow program we have.” Neill farms plants a range of soybean maturities form 3.5-4.3. “We are pushing the envelope because a 4.3 is a little excessive. We need to wait for a frost to kill the 4.3 beans because we are keeping them green and alive so long, but we are finding our top yields is with those full season beans.”
Neill Farms balance crops and livestock production. The crops and livestock are connected. “We raise a little more corn than soybeans. We have always seen a little more profit from the corn crop,” said Neill. “Our acreage breakdown is about 55% corn, 40% soybeans, and 5% wheat. Corn has always been a good crop for us. We are good at grazing it. As we manage those acres accordingly, we can do continuous corn here close to the farm and produce some good yields. With the livestock we have here, that also allows us to utilize our manure.”
For tillage, Neill Farms uses conservation tillage. “We do minimum tillage with an inline ripper if we need to till, otherwise it is no-till and minimum tillage,” said Neill. “We have a lot of variability in our soil types. From red clay to sand and gravel in the river bottoms and about everything in between. The organic matter ranges from ½ percent to 3 ½ percent.”
Every year is different and Neill is excited to see what 2022 will bring.
Watch the interview here.