To stack the high-yield deck in your favor, carefully choose the most suitable wheat varieties for your farm. To begin, select at least three different high-yielding varieties, ideally with early, medium and later maturity to spread risk and harvest workload. Spreading varieties across different maturity ranges is especially important in a year when rain is expected during harvest, to help protect test weight and grain quality.
Next, carefully review local and state wheat variety performance data and compare the results to your own experience; beware the yield performance can be specific to the individual farm management style, disease control programs, rotation, etc. If you can, conduct basic on-farm strip trial comparisons to help you compare existing varieties alongside some of the newer varieties on your own farm.
There is no substitute for testing varieties in your own soils, tillage practices, rotation and management system. Begin with a field with uniform fertility and soil types with minimal yield variability (use yield maps to help you identify the right field). Plant three to four new varieties you believe are most suitable for your area and compare them to your current varieties. Apply all inputs perpendicular to the drill passes so all strips get equal wheel tracks from the sprayer. If possible, apply a higher nitrogen rate across at least part of the strips, perhaps adding 30 lb. more nitrogen per acre to see how each of the varieties yield and stand up to higher nitrogen rates. A weigh wagon at harvest will help gather accurate yield data, but a calibrated yield monitor will let you see any yield differences within the strips.
In most examples, farmers can obtain at least a couple 50-lb. bags of new certified varieties to evaluate in their fields. While we recognize it takes work to clean out seeding equipment and switch varieties every time, the upside potential is huge to help you narrow down which varieties are most suitable to create the highest yields and profits.
When researching varieties for your farm, be mindful of these eight important characteristics:
1. High yield potential. Yield potential is the No. 1 priority across your specific soils, rainfall, fertility levels, planting date window, crop rotation and tillage (or no-till) system.
2. Good test weight. Test weight is highly influenced by variety and partly influenced by crop management, so try to select varieties with above average test weight.
3. Consistency. Look at local and regional research trial data to determine how each variety performed in various rainfall, temperatures, planting dates and rotations. Comparing multiple sites over multiple years will give you more confidence in a variety’s performance at the local level.
4. Availability. This might need to be at the top of the list, but farmers who consistently achieve the highest yields are usually the ones constantly seeking and planting new varieties. The challenge is often supply of these new varieties, especially when they are first released. If you think they might fit your farm, order them early.
5. Short plant height and good standability characteristics. Both characteristics are critical to keep the crop standing in a high-yielding environment, especially when applying high rates of nitrogen to maximize yields. Ideally varieties should be 32" to 35" tall with good stem quality. Try to avoid varieties that average more than 40" in height, especially if planting early in fields with high levels of residual nitrogen. Growth regulators might help reduce plant height by 4" to 5" on average, but we always prefer to begin with shorter varieties if possible.
6. A range of different maturities. Ideally growers should select one or more varieties from each of the early, medium and late maturity groups to help minimize freeze damage in winter wheat. This same strategy will help spread the harvest workload, boost grain quality during harvest seasons with heavy rains and reduce the risk of developing diseases such as scab.
7. Good protein. Grain protein is generally only important in hard wheat and durum production regions. While nitrogen and other nutrients can improve protein, it’s best to start with a variety with above average protein content.
8. Above average standards of disease resistance. Foliar fungicide applications on wheat are becoming more common, partly because of the stripe rust pressure in the past two years but also because many fungicide products have dropped in price. If you plan to use foliar fungicides, then the standards of foliar disease resistance in a variety can be lower. However, if you are often short of help during the fungicide spraying window, choose varieties with a better disease resistance package. If you plan to seed wheat after wheat, especially in a no-till system, be sure to select varieties with good tan spot resistance. If you are located in a region that has higher fusarium head blight (scab) risk, then select varieties on the upper end of the resistance levels, especially if you plan to no-till wheat into cornstalks.