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New Soybean Zapper Boosts Yields
Researchers are spending millions of dollars every year to develop a higher-yielding soybean but an Illinois inventor maintains that "we've already got the bean. All we need to do is zap it."
The inventor, Victor Zoellick of Rockford, has come up with a revolutionary new machine to do just that. Dubbed "The Zapper", it's equipped with rubber hammers which inflict heavy damage to the growing soybean crop to produce higher yields.
"Hailstorms 'zap' crops all the time and soybeans often come back stronger than ever. Now we can produce the same results with a machine," explains Zoellick, who says several years of greenhouse experiments totally convinced him that deliberately inflicting severe damage to soybeans at the right time during the growing season produces higher yields.
The Zapper is designed to beat up soybean plants, stripping leaves from all around the canopy of the plant but without damaging the stem. Zoellick has found that the best time to zap beans is when the first blossoms appear, when plant height is at 10 to 14 in.
"We stimulate the plant by stunning it the same way tobacco growers top off tobacco plants to increase the size of leaves, or the same way flower and vegetable growers pinch off the top of plants to promote plant strength and bushiness," explains Zoellick. "Once zapped, it takes anywhere from a day to a couple weeks for the crop to bounce back. But it comes back stronger than ever, with a stronger stem, a larger canopy, more nodules on the roots and, most important, more pods," says Zoellick.
The Zapper was tested for the first time last summer on the farm of Ron Brockman near Garden Prairie, Ill. Set up for 4 30-in. rows, the 12-ft. wide machine zapped every other 4 rows in a 5-acre test plot. The beans were harvested separately.
"I'm convinced it works. The zapped beans consistently yielded 2 to 4 bu. over the undamaged beans right next to them, although all our bean yields were down about 5 bu. per acre this past year due to poor growing conditions," says Brockman. "I believe the theory works and we plan to zap even more beans this year."
"We're convinced that, in good growing years, we'll get consistent yield increases of 20% and more," says Zoellick, noting that yield increases in 1982 ranged from 10 to 15% on test plots. "Growing conditions in August the most critical time after zapping were unusually poor last year and we feel this reduced the size of the yield increase we'd expect to get in a normal year."
The pto-powered Zapper consists of a spinning shaft with varying lengths of rubber straps bolted to it. Spinning at about 250 rpm's, the 10 to 20-in. long straps which are 1/2-in. wide and 1/4-in. thick whip into the soybean foliage on both the sides and top of the canopy. There are 6 to 8 straps per row. The machine is pulled through the field at about 5 1/2 mph and Zoellick notes that the operation could be combined with a rope wick applicator mounted up front to get volunteer corn.
"After the machine passes through it looks like a strong wind or hail storm just went through," says Brockman. Zoellick notes that the ideal amount of damage to the plant is about 30%, with 15% of the leaves stripped completely from the plant. It's critical, he notes, to avoid damaging the stem and to keep the correct shaft speed and field speed.
"It takes very little power to operate the machine a small utility tractor is enough. Both wheels and straps are adjustable to different row widths."
Zoellick says the number of plant nodules is also increased by zapping and, therefore, he thinks nitrogen fixation by the soybeans is greater. He plans to plant corn in last year's soy-bean test plots without adding any additional nutrients to see if the difference in fertility can be detected. He says Illinois Agricultural Department officials will also conduct tests next year and he has contacted agronomy departments at several universities, inviting them to participate in tests.
"We will test the idea on peas, potatoes, lentils and other blossoming crops. We don't think it will work in corn because it's

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1983 - Volume #7, Issue #1