I was raised on a farm in Lincolnshire, a major wheat-producing county in eastern England. The region regularly produces 140 bu. to 150 bu. per acre wheat. In fact, this year, a Lincolnshire farmer raised a verified yield of 214 bu. per acre in an area that receives 20" to 24" of rainfall each year.
I came to the U.S. in 1989 to work with the Miles Farm Supply team, conducting trials to investigate which European crop management elements might offer the greatest yield and profit increases. When the Miles organization, in conjunction with the University of Kentucky, started offering a European-style crop management system, average yields in Kentucky increased from 35 bu. per acre in the 1980s to 75 bu. per acre this year. One of my clients won the Kentucky wheat yield contest this year with a little more than 121 bu. per acre.
While European wheat management systems are being used across the U.S., I’m frequently asked: "Why are wheat yields still so much higher in England? Mostly, the cooler and longer growing season across Western Europe lends itself to higher yields; however, annual yields across England have increased by 20 bu. per acre in the past 25 years. Most of these yield increases have come from better crop management, especially improved timing and accuracy of inputs, plus better plant breeding.
More recently, there have been numerous technological advances when it comes to seeding equipment, including ultra-narrow row spacings with consistent depth control. Narrow row spacings of around 5" are common on western European farms, based on research that documents higher yields from better use of light, nutrients and water. I have conducted many replicated wheat row-spacing trials in the U.S., and almost all of them have resulted in higher yields in narrow rows. Research from the University of Virginia even suggests a 10% yield boost when going from an 8" to 4" row spacing.
In an attempt to take wheat yields to the next level, some European manufacturers are now adding singulation systems to their air seeders to further improve seed distribution and increase yields in narrow rows.
In the next three to five years, we’ll see hybrid wheat varieties introduced in the U.S. and yield advances of 5% to 15%. The downside of hybrid wheat is the higher cost of the seed, primarily because of the increased production costs but also because farmers won’t be able to save their own seed.
Phil Needham writes from Calhoun, Ky. Contact Phil:
To take your wheat yields to the next level, make plans to attend a Farm Journal Wheat College event in 2014.
Feb. 25 - Dodge City, Kan.
March 13 - Admore, Okla.
To register, call (877) 482-7203 or visit www.FarmJournalCornCollege.com