Wheat producers need to study before buying wheat seed
The seed variety Kansas wheat farmers plant this fall will go a long way in determining whether next summer's wheat harvest is boom or bust.
This is a subject that Kansas State University Extension agronomist Jim Shroyer has addressed at several Pre-Plant Wheat Schools, held in dozens of communities throughout the state this month. In every location, Shroyer is asked by farmers which variety is best for that area. And Shroyer answers each question the same way: it depends.
"Some practices are site specific. There is a wide range of fertility, tillage and herbicide practices that work for some farmers, but not others," Shroyer says. "People who have farmed a piece of ground for a long time know that land better than anyone. A variety that works great for Farmer A may be Farmer B's worst variety."
Shroyer suggests farmers study the Kansas State University Crop Performance Test results from across the state. The results, available at local Extension offices or on the Internet, feature variety results from replicated plots and variety demonstration plots from several counties.
"The county plots are often strip plots, so they're not replicated like researchers would do," Shroyer says. "But over the years we've noticed that yields of strip plots correlate quite well to performance tests. The cream rises to the top."
From these variety trials, farmers can learn which wheat varieties yielded the best in 2009. But Shroyer cautions against selecting varieties based only on one year's data.
"The last two years, we had mild spring and summer temperatures. This year, we had very little diseases due to lack of disease pressure in Texas and Oklahoma. Moreover, we had ample moisture for the most part. If you think next year will be like this year, you might be tempted to plant the varieties that did the best in 2009," he says.
Spreading one's risk might be the most sensible solution, however.
"I'm not one to put all my eggs in one basket. I'd like to see farmers plant a medium-early or medium variety; then a medium-late variety. Hopefully, the season will be just right on two-thirds of them. ¬ I prefer farmers plant multiple varieties, and test a new variety on a few acres," he adds.
Wheat variety blends have been a popular solution for farmers concerned about one variety failing.
"Our research on low seeding rates over the years shows that you could lose a third of the stand, or more and still come out okay, depending on when that occurs," he says. "Blends won't be the highest yield, but they won't be the lowest yield, either."
Shroyer adds that certified seed is a good investment for farmers. "Certified seed is a proven, low-cost input that guarantees the variety and that it is pure. That's a pretty good guarantee, one that bin run seed doesn't have.
"There are all sorts of things that can happen with bin-run seed. You may think you're being smart by saving money, but in the long run, it may cost you in added herbicide costs to take out weeds, or fungicide to combat diseases," he says.