Expert says big inputs equal big wheat yields — but not necessarily more profit

BUMPER YIELDS Ontario wheat growers are topping 80 bushels an acre and 
some U.K. farmers are piling on inputs and reaping 200 bushels plus

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If you’re looking for higher wheat yields, fine tune your fungicide and nitrogen applications — and hope better genetics come along soon.

That was the advice offered by Peter Johnson, provincial wheat specialist with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, at the Farm Tech conference.

“Look at nitrogen and fungicides and look at this interaction because there’s something there,” he said. “Forget about chasing the wonder dust, because it doesn’t work.”

Johnson was equally critical about current wheat varieties.

“Western Canada has the least genetic progress of virtually anywhere in the world,” he said. “You guys all think you have to have quality. To heck with quality, get with the program and grow bushels. It really will make a difference.”

At 82.7 bushels per acre, Ontario has the highest non-irrigated wheat yields in North America, but is still losing acres to corn.

“We can’t compete with corn — it’s like you guys with canola,” Johnson said. “They can grow 200-bushel corn, while I’m at 80-bushel wheat, that’s why we struggle.”

To take the yield to the top, you need the best genetics and the right inputs applied at the right time, he said. Fungicides can boost wheat yields by eight to 10 per cent, while in the United Kingdom, some growers are putting on 240 pounds of nitrogen per acre and have doubled yields to more than 200 bushels per acre.

“It’s the increase in nitrogen that is driving all that, and you need the fungicides to work together,” said Johnson.

“Not too much, just enough to maintain the canopy. Then I want to maintain the top leaves at grain fill because it’s the top leaves that make the yield in the plant.”

Johnson and other researchers did small-plot research with field-scale equipment and liquid nitrogen to mimic real-life growing situations. They experimented with different rates of fungicides and multiple varieties of wheat in every plot.

Johnson then took the top three or four treatments and replicated them on entire fields to test them. By applying a fungicide with 120 pounds of nitrogen, Johnson could increase yields by 12 bushels an acre. With fungicide and 150 pounds of nitrogen, the yield gain averaged 18 bushels an acre on all wheat varieties — the best gaining 37 bushels per acre while the worst genetics showed a gain of 14 bushels per acre.

“On the worst genetics, I broke even,” said Johnson. “On the best genetics, we had up to 100 bushels per acre more profit.”

Johnson has used the formula on spring wheat, spring barley and oats.

“It works less well on spring wheat, but I think it’s because we don’t have the genetics,” he said. “It worked but it was never economic, just break-even.”

Johnson said winter or spring wheat can be used, as long as the varieties have the genetic yield potential.

“I think some of the general purpose or CPS might have it, but hard red springs probably not,” he said. “I don’t know the answer because I’m not an Alberta farmer. But I think you have to look at it.”

Johnson did all his trials with one application of nitrogen applied just before stage 30, and said he was surprised there was no lodging even at 150 pounds of nitrogen. The best yield gains were seen when fungicide was applied at heading.

“The greener you can keep the crop after it heads out, the more yield potential you should have,” he said.

Fungicide can be applied twice, but with three applications the economic benefit is lost.

Johnson advised producers to solve their micronutrient deficiencies and ensure residue is properly spread. To avoid lodging, he plants about 35 seeds per square foot, and expects a mortality rate of 15 to 20 per cent. He aims to have his wheat head on or near June 21 so grain fill happens on days with the most daylight. Seed treatment can boost yields by five per cent yield increase and seeds should only be planted one inch deep.

“Seeding depth and uniformity is something you guys are not doing a good job of,” he said.

About the author


Alexis Kienlen

Alexis Kienlen lives in Edmonton and has been writing for Alberta Farmer since 2008. Originally from Saskatoon, Alexis is also the author of two collections of poetry, a biography, and a novel called "Mad Cow."



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