Wheat Yields Hit New Highs

Farmers combat low prices with higher yields.

Grains

Wheat Yields Hit New Highs

Farmers combat low prices with higher yields.

By Larry Reichenberger

Wheat growers won’t soon forget this past season—one that saw record yields in 11 of the 16 winter wheat states. Mother Nature provided near-perfect conditions that allowed the yield potential of new varieties and the yield impact of new practices to shine.

“Conditions during the vital six-week period from flowering to maturity were almost as good as we maintain in a growth chamber,” says Allan Fritz, wheat breeder at Kansas State University. “Wheat’s yield potential in the Plains is probably 140 to 160 bushels per acre and we approached that in some plots.”

Contest results. One measure of what occurred is the 2016 Kansas Wheat Yield Contest. While 100-bushel per acre yields have been a rarity in the contest’s seven-year history, this year 11 entries topped that mark, led by Leoti, Kansas, farmer Alec Horton. His entry on behalf of Horton Seed Services reached 121.5 bushels.

“Our key practices included the hard white variety Joe, conditioned manure, 90 pounds of nitrogen as a topdress, and two foliar fungicide treatments,” says Horton.

Kansas wheat grower Richard Seck says taking advantage of marketing opportunities has allowed him to be profitable while adding inputs to boost wheat yields.

Kansas wheat grower Richard Seck says taking advantage of marketing opportunities has allowed him to be profitable while adding inputs to boost wheat yields.

Though not in the yield contest, Haven, Kansas farmers Richard and David Seck also took their best shot at higher yields. “The best we’ve ever grown is 117 bushels, and we decided to do all we could to get to 150,” says Richard.

“We want to find the edge of the envelope—the upper limit to our yields. Our effort fell short this year—the field yielded 102 bushels despite a 28% hail loss— but it was on track for a yield of 130.”

The Secks built their production plan around high-yielding genetics, optimum fertility and plant health.   “We planted the variety Chrome (from Lima Grain) for its yield potential and seeded 90 pounds per acre. We applied 30 pounds of N at planting, topdressed with 60 pounds more in December and 30 more in February. The balance of 300 pounds of nitrogen per acre was applied through irrigation,” says Richard.

The father/son partners made two fungicide/growth regulator applications. “Plant health is a priority—instead of just keeping the flag leaf healthy we want to protect all the leaves, like they do in Europe.”

Making inputs pay. At today’s low wheat prices, the profitability of additional inputs is in question. Researchers at Kansas State University are involved in two projects to help answer that question. The first compares the response of different varieties to split fungicide applications and added nitrogen and the  second compares the addition (and withdrawal) of a host of inputs, including more nitrogen, sulfur, chloride, fungicide, growth regulator, and a higher population.

Kansas State’s Romulo Lollato is working with a team of researchers to fine-tune the situations where intensive wheat management can be profitable.

Kansas State’s Romulo Lollato is working with a team of researchers to fine-tune the situations where intensive wheat management can be profitable.

“In both projects, knowing the strengths and weaknesses of a variety, and scouting to determine the threats they face were critical to making intensive management pay,” says  extension wheat specialist Romulo Lollato. “With varieties susceptible to leaf and stripe rust, a fungicide application was profitable 70% of the time with an average yield increase of 21 bushels per acre in 50% of the cases.”

“However, with varieties resistant to leaf and stripe rust, fungicide proved profitable only 20% of the time with an average increase of six bushels in 50% of cases.”

Results from the ‘kitchen sink’ project are similar. “This type of research in other crops has found that you need all the inputs to get the maximum possible benefit, but that doesn’t appear to be the case with wheat. Intensive management can be profitable, but you need to know your wheat varieties and scout your fields to know which specific inputs present the best opportunity,” says Romulo.

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