Knowledge In, High Yields Out

Knowledge In, High Yields Out

Wheat production know-how coupled with precision technology can push yields 

More than 200 farmers from 15 states and Canada gathered late this winter for Wheat College in Manhattan, Kan., and Wheat and Soybean College in Coldwater, Mich. High-yield wheat experts Phil Needham and Ronan Cummins armed farmers with top tips for high-yielding wheat, including how to establish a proper stand and execute a nutrient management program. 

With tight margins, in-field efficiencies are top of mind. To effectively manage nutrients, Needham and Cummins say start with soil sampling. 


“Analyzing this information allows you to make sound decisions and not spend more money than you have to in order to reach a top yielding crop,” Needham adds. “Fertility levels can significantly vary within a field. Soil sampling each region helps you understand how nutrient levels change.”

The cornerstone to high yields begins with an adequate plant stand.  Cummins says the goal is to achieve 600 to 800 heads per square yard at harvest. To reach this, many factors play a role, starting with stand establishment, crop rotation, tillage practice and the amount of residue on the ground at planting. A late-emerging plant, even by three to four days, can cause issues all season long. For example, late flowering can cause problems when spraying a foliar fungicide to prevent Fusarium or other diseases. 

Although a field appears uniform, there can be pockets where stands are thinner or plants are smaller or even yellow in color. Those pockets quickly add up to significant yield loss, Needham notes. 

“If you do a good job of seeding and your plants come up uniform, you’re already halfway to higher yields,” he notes. “Many times the game is often won or lost before the wheat plant comes out of the ground.”

In addition to establishing proper stands, new technologies such as optical crop sensing systems can help manage input costs. These systems help determine specific nitrogen rates and timing based on field needs. 

The health of the wheat field depends on the preceding crop, Needham says. For instance, in areas where the previous corn crop yielded at the high end, Needham found less residual nitrogen using a GreenSeeker. In the lower yielding areas, he found higher residual nitrogen levels. 

“By applying nitrogen variable rate, we spent less money because we put nitrogen where it is needed,” Needham says. “Research shows although up-front costs of optical sensing technology is expensive, it can more than repay for itself.”

To learn more about upcoming Farm Journal events, visit 

To listen to an audio report with Phil Needham about high-yield wheat strategies, visit


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