This article kicks off my new column dedicated to sharing top tips for increasing wheat yields. My crop consulting business is based in Kentucky, but I work with many farmers and dealers from Louisiana to North Dakota to Washington with consulting services and educational programs. I encourage every grower to begin with a strong foundation to take yields to the next level.
Better seed. Higher yields always begin with high-quality seed. Wheat growers need to select varieties that have been found to offer high yields, good standability characteristics and a strong disease resistance package that is appropriate for their soils, planting dates, climate and management practices. My higher-acreage clients raise at least four to six different varieties each year, which include a couple of new high-yielding releases, to spread the risk and also help us understand which are most suitable and consistent across soil types and planting dates.
Seed needs to be well cleaned (ideally with a gravity table), and it should be treated uniformly with a fungicide seed treatment. Professional seed treatment units are preferred. Use caution because treating wheat through an auger frequently does not provide uniform coverage and disease protection to young emerging plants.
Improved soil testing. Farmers need to take soil samples regularly to better understand macro- and micronutrient levels, in addition to how the soil’s nutrient levels change over time. Some of the most successful wheat producers that I work with sample their soil annually and have done so for the past 30 years. This documents yields, nutrient applications and cropping histories. The more information available, the better able your consultant will be to make fertility recommendations.
There are still producers who don’t have current soil tests on some fields, but it’s important to understand that soil tests are one of the most useful tools we have at our disposal. I have heard farmers say that soil testing is expensive, but in my opinion, you can’t afford not to have current soil tests. Within higher productivity areas, region soil sampling by topography, yield map or soil type offers greater confidence in nutrient levels within the fields, and recommendations can be refined with in-season tissue tests.
Residue management. Establishing even wheat stands starts at harvest. Poor or inconsistent emergence can frequently be traced back to poor residue distribution with the combine. In no-till, this becomes even more crucial. Heavy streaks of residue cool the soils, especially in early spring.
Nutrient availability is also reduced within these cooler, residue-covered areas, reducing head counts and final yields. Residue must be distributed uniformly with the combine at harvesttime, so if you know you have problems distributing residue, talk to your equipment dealer about aftermarket kits or modifications that can help improve residue distribution and improve the following year’s crop stands and standards of uniformity.
By Phil Needham