Wheat, as a crop, has been scrutinized by growers across the U.S. and largely hasn’t measured up in productivity to that of other commodity crops in areas where other crops are an option and offer higher profitability potential – such as corn and soybeans. Yet there are wheat growers who can achieve yields and profitability that rival that of corn in their area.
Productivity is an average measure of the efficiency of production, expressed as the ratio of output to inputs used in the production process, i.e., output per unit of input. Growers are constantly seeking to improve output for the same input or improve output with a changed input. And with better varietal input options becoming available from private and public sector wheat breeders, growers are paying more attention to management options as productivity improvements are now within reach.
As Director of the National Wheat Yield Contest, I’ve witnessed successful wheat production every year by growers across the nation. It is obvious these growers don’t use the same management practices to get the crop off to a good start. Even individual grower’s methods are dynamic, changing with the conditions Mother Nature presents each year.
But there are some general management practices that never change. Below are tips provided by participants in the National Wheat Yield Contest that may be applicable to your operation and enable you to improve your wheat’s productivity.
  1. “First, quality seed. Second, quality seed treatments that are efficacious in your environment.”Allan Baucom, Monroe, NC.
  2. “Critical to our operation is planting behind legumes. Our rotation is legume (pinto or soybeans), wheat, corn. Wheat following the legume provides a pristine soil in which to plant and helps break the cycle of disease [better] than following corn. This is especially helpful to reduce the pressure of SCAB. We still do apply fungicide treatments to control SCAB, however.”
    Rick Albrecht, Wimbledon, ND.
  3. “Start with weed-free canola stubble. We also plant at the earliest recommended planting date to ensure good crown development, as the season is pretty short in the fall this far north.”
    John Weinand, Hazen, ND.
  4. “My most important thing I do before planting is match my seed variety to my soil type and other factors. Some varieties do better in some situations than other varieties do. Then I make sure my seed is pure and viable. I usually go to the wheat breeder to get the best info because they put them in many plots and soil types to save us from finding out the hard way that a variety is wrong for our soil types. Not too many fields will have only one soil type when we have several thousand types in the U.S. and that makes it more important. As you know, the crop begins with the seed so, we need all the help we can get.”
    Don Schieber, Ponca City, OK.
  5. “We start with cleaned wheat with max of seed treatment on it. Then we try to get fields level as possible without moving a lot of dirt to make sure we get good soil to seed contact. In our area we put down a dry starter, which we incorporate in. Then we hope and pray mother nature cooperates.”
    Doug Goyings, Paulding, OH, Vice Chairman, US Wheat Associates, Inc.
  6. “Always have your yield goal in mind and don’t lose sight of it. Raise your yield expectations of what’s possible. For some, that’s 100 bu/A. For others, they may be shooting for 150 bu/A. Getting off to a good start in wheat is no different than our corn and soybean crops. It starts with elite genetics, high quality seed and uniform applications of quality seed treatments. Just as we do for other crops, spending time to ensure the drill or planter is calibrated and performing optimally is critical. Wheat usually gets planted into higher-residue conditions, so managing this is important. A well sown wheat field provides the foundation for the entire year and presents higher yield opportunities. Once spring hits, then it gets fun managing the crop through harvest.”
    Matt Wehmeyer, AgriMAXX Wheat Company, Mascoutah, IL.
  7. “When it come to the things we can control, seeding rate is the most important factor on our farm. Seeding rate is all determined by variety though, dependent upon tillering ability and head size along with grain fill. We have found in our dry climate lower seeding rates are better, with around 375,000-525,000 viable seeds per acre being our range. Variety will determine the actual population we target. Everything comes back to our inputs. We have a good fertility program, paired with the use of seed treatments and foliar fungicides, so putting out more primary plants creates too much competition, decreasing nutrient and moisture efficiency. Lower seeding rates allow the plant to flex and grow the way it is genetically bred. In our area, this allows the variety and Mother Nature to work together to maximize our yield a lot better than if we planted higher populations.”
    Alec Horton, Horton Seed Services, Leoti, KS
  8. “The first step in our wheat production starts with the matching of different varieties and genetics to different scenarios. This is the single most important decision for high yield potential as some newer varieties will just simply out-yield older varieties in the same environment. On-farm test plots are the best way of finding these premium varieties. When seeding, one rule of thumb on our farm is you always want to see seeders kicking up dust. Seed too wet, and you’ll see some retardation in emergence and root growth. Stand is everything, better stand, better yield. When possible, we try to either broadcast-incorporate fertilizer into the root zone or apply a seed safe starter nutrient bomb in-furrow to mitigate environmental dormancy.”
    Phillip Gross, Warden, WA, Two-time consecutive National Champion, National Wheat Yield Contest.
Growers in the wheat contest all purchase good quality seed. It is the one constant. Knowing as much about the variety as possible is paramount and was mentioned by these growers most often as the management decision to focus your efforts on.
After determining the right varieties for your farm, seeding rate is as important as selecting the variety. There are several strategies utilized by growers leading me to believe this decision is one that deserves considerable thought and research. Check with your local seedsman, breeder, wheat extension agronomist or crop advisor for the optimal plant density for the variety selected and for your area.
In the end, you know your land better than anyone and you are the one accountable for the productivity improvement on your farm. Make the decision, keep notes and adapt as needed. Hopefully, these ideas will aid your planning process and improve the productivity of your wheat crop in 2019.
Steve Joehl is Director of Research & Technology at the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG). He can be reached at sjoehl@wheatworld.org. NAWG’s address is 415 Second St. NE, Suite 200, Washington, DC 20002.

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About the Author: Steve Joehl

Steve Joehl is Director of Research & Technology at the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG). He can be reached at sjoehl@wheatworld.org. NAWG’s address is 415 Second St. NE, Suite 200, Washington, DC 20002.