Groups hope more farmers will choose wheat to boost national acres
The National Wheat Yield Contest (NWYC) is ready for kickoff. The tale-of-the-tape competition is exciting, but it’s also a vehicle to improve wheat production and showcase U.S. wheat growers’ abilities.
“This is not just a contest,” says Dusty Tallman, National Wheat Foundation (NWF) chairman and a Colorado wheat grower. “We’re focusing on wheat production knowledge, with the opportunity for one grower to show others how to increase wheat yield. Hybrids and genetics are crucial but so is showing another farmer practical measures in the field.”
Winter wheat and spring wheat are separated into two categories and further divided between irrigated and dryland crops. Contestants must be state wheat grower association members or members of the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG) if a given state has no grower organization. Certified or branded wheat seed must be used on a minimum five-acre plot. Yields will be verified by Extension agents, crop insurance agents and crop advisers.
Growers aren’t judged according to high yield, but rather by the percentage increase in yield compared with USDA–National Agricultural Statistics Service county averages. “I farm in southeast Colorado and can’t compete with producers in other parts of the country based on bushel barriers. The playing field is level for everybody,” Tallman notes.
He wants the contest to highlight wheat’s viability for corn and soybean growers. “An Iowa farmer can go with something out of the typical rotation and plant wheat on dryland and make great yield,” he adds.
As sister entities, NWF and NAWG are trying to reverse the declining wheat acreage trend in the U.S. In the past 20 years, wheat acres have dropped 20% nationwide, while corn acreage has climbed 18%. Total U.S. wheat production has changed relatively little in the past 50 years from 1.4 billion bushels in 1960 to 2 billion bushels in 2014. On the other hand, foreign wheat production has tripled from 7.2 billion bushels to 24.2 billion bushels. During that same time period, the U.S. share of world wheat production fell from 16% to 8%.
Without an increase in production, the U.S. market share will continue to erode, says Steve Joehl, NAWG director of research and technology. “We know the demand is out there in the foreign market, but we know we’re in an acre decline in the U.S. It’s all about reducing costs per bushel by driving yield,” he notes.
U.S. wheat growers often label wheat as a secondary, or slacker, crop as opposed to the relative high-maintenance corn, cotton and soybeans. In most cases, there’s a huge discrepancy in wheat management. It’s simply not as intensely managed as other commodity crops. Tools already exist to enable a farmer to increase yield by 20%, Joehl says.
“What better way to get the information out to growers about what is needed to improve productivity than through a wheat yield contest?” he adds. “All the technology hasn’t been adapted across wheat-growing regions. If we could adopt tools already available, we would see a huge increase in wheat productivity.”