The annual Double Crop Farmer’s Forum was held January 2023. The event, organized by the Illinois Wheat Association (IWA) with support from Illinois Soybean Association and other sponsors, discussed nearly all aspects of wheat production with a special emphasis on improving wheat yield and profitability of the wheat double-crop system. The day began with a diverse panel of wheat growers who talked about some specific changes they have implemented to improve the success of their wheat-double crop soybean operations. After the panel, the program continued with a series of experts in agronomy, climatology, crop insurance, and economics. Eminent wheat agronomists, Dr. Dennis Pennington from Michigan State University and Dr. Chad Lee from the University of Kentucky, shared sound advice on wheat management backed by robust data from farmers’ fields and carefully designed experiments.

Dr. Jessica Rutkoski

As one of the attendees, I was eager to learn the current trends in wheat production practices and the factors that may limit the profitability of wheat double-crop soybeans in our region. While I learned a lot about a wide range of topics, the 5 key things that I took home were:

  1. Seeding rates in wheat beyond 1-1.2 million seeds/acre are not likely to provide a significant bump in yield, on average, unless you are planting much later than the ideal planting date.
  2. Yield potential is higher with narrower row spacing. On average, yields will be better with a standard 7 or 7.5 inch row spacing compared to 15-inch row spacing, but in some years there is no yield difference between the two. Some growers opt for 15-inch rows because doing so can eliminate the cost of buying and maintaining a drill.
  3. Precise seed spacing, also called singulation, can increase yield. The only problem is that wheat seed singulators only work at very slow speeds. Perhaps as technology improves, singulation will become possible.
  4. Spring freeze events are always possible and can reduce yield when they occur. Robust research on the effects of spring freeze events on yield has not been conducted in our region. What we do know is that the timing and the duration of the freeze matters.
  5. Finally, I learned that adding wheat to ones’ rotation for the first time and making it profitable can be a significant challenge, but with some experience and knowledge gained from IWA members and events, it can be done.

Personally speaking, as a wheat breeder and Assistant Professor at the University of Illinois, the Double Crop Forum was a great excuse for me to break away from routine and focus on understanding wheat production practices and challenges in our region. With this understanding, I hope to develop wheat lines and research projects that can better fulfill the needs of the current and future wheat growers of Illinois.

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About the Author: Jessica Rutkoski

Dr. Jessica Rutkoski is an assistant professor and small grains breeder at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. One of Dr. Rutkoski’s major goals is to make winter wheat production more profitable in Illinois so that wheat can play a larger role in enhancing the productivity and sustainability of Illinois agriculture. To achieve this goal, Dr. Rutkoski’s program develops wheat lines with characteristics important for profitability in the wheat/double-crop soybean system. These characteristics include high yield, early maturity, scab resistance, and high test-weight. Lines developed by the program are licensed to seed companies that sell them as varieties. Dr. Rutkoski also conducts research on plant breeding and phenotyping methods in pursuit of breakthroughs that will accelerate genetic gains in yield and other complex traits. Before joining the University of Illinois, Dr. Rutkoski received a BS degree in Genetics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and a Ph.D. in Plant Breeding at Cornell University. After her Ph.D., she worked internationally for 5 years in breeding programs at International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), located in the Philippines, and at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), located in Mexico.

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