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Wheat expert talks suggests yield-boosting strategies


Agronomist Phil Needham has made a living helping wheat farmers in the United States achieve yields approaching the European average of 100 bushels per acre, or more. A native of England, Needham has developed a consulting business in Kentucky. He spoke about many of these high-yield strategies at the No-Till on the Plains Winter Conference in Salina Jan. 27 and 28.

Not all farmers are ready to incorporate Needham's strategies on their farms. But Needham says Kansas farmers could boost yields by 10 or 20 bushels per acre by addressing a few often overlooked details.

"It's all about minimizing or eliminating weak links. When a farmer says he is doing everything correctly, I often can find uniformity problems, find weeds, insects, diseases, and many other yield-limiting problems. I can stand there and say if you eliminate that problem you get a few bushels here and there," Needham explains. "Based upon my trials, I could come up with some pretty good numbers that relate to a lot of bushels. In a lot of examples, I can assemble 10-20 bushels they've left on the table."

Obtaining uniform emergence, he says, is a good start.

"Uniformity is something simple, which frequently doesn't cost any money to address. For example, if any producer wants to no-till wheat into crop residue, they've got to spread their previous crop residue evenly. A lot of people fall short in that they cannot spread residue, and thus have stand and emergence problems," Needham explains.

Achieving optimum planting populations, he adds, is another aspect of uniform crop emergence.

"When I talk to producers in Kansas and ask what seed rate they use, they say 60, 80, 90 pounds per acre. They may have reasons to select that seed rate. I'll ask, them, 'do you adjust by planting date, variety or seed size?' The answer is, 'probably not.'"

"Depending on year and variety, the number of seeds per pound can range from 12,000 to 20,000. If you plant two varieties, one 12K and one 15K, if you plant 90 pounds, you have 20 to 30 percent difference in the number of seeds per pound. I work with a number of producers as an agronomist and one of the first things we do is set our seeding rate of pounds per yard or acre, depending on the variety we're seeding, seeding date, whether or not it is no-till or wheat after wheat or wheat after soybeans. Seeding the right number of seeds is a good start," he explains. "Some people fall over at the starting gate with that."

Needham says farmers should obtain soil tests and pay attention to where deficiencies may occur.

"Some guys are doing a better job than others," he acknowledges. "Generally speaking, there are some opportunities with fertility. Maybe a field is deficient in micronutrients such as zinc for example, or major nutrients, such as phosphorous. Getting phosphorous placed in the row, for example, is a good strategy."

Once the crop is in the ground and established, farmers need to consider nitrogen fertilizer strategies. Should farmers apply all the nitrogen at once, or split-apply and have two applications?

Finally, management of the growing crop is key.

"We need to manage weeds and knock them out early so they don't compete with the crop. And we need to keep foliar diseases out. There are some guys that lost 20-30 bushels because they didn't use fungicide, or didn't apply at the right stage of development or use the right nozzles," he says.

More information is available by logging onto www.needhamag.com.

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