Wheat School: Growing wheat the ‘Kiwi’ way

New Zealand doesn’t share a lot in common with Canada, however, when it comes to growing high-yielding wheat Kiwi growers do count on similar management practices to put big-bushel wheat crops in the bin.

Syngenta commercial products lead Sam Livesey, a New Zealand native, concedes that the country’s wheat industry is diminutive (135,000 acres) but there’s nothing small about the average yield, which checks in at 120 bu/ac. The country even boasts the world record for wheat production — held by grower Eric Watson at 245 bu/ac.

So how do Kiwi growers hit those big yield numbers? At the annual C&M Seeds Industry Day, Livesey explained that growers who farm on this island in the southwestern Pacific ocean rely on a combination of environment, genetics, agronomy and management.

Genetics is the base and high yields come from selecting the right variety for the environment and growing conditions, says Livesey on this episode of RealAgriculture Wheat School. He also acknowledges the ocean’s ability to regulate temperature and create a long growing season that ranges from lows of 5 degrees C in the winter to 30 degree highs in the summer. (Story continues after the video.)

One of the biggest contrasts between the two regions is seeding rate. While Canadian growers tend to plant in the range of 1.8 to 2.2 million seeds per acre, New Zealand growers will plant as few as 50,000 seeds per acre. The big difference here is the warm environment, which promotes heavy tillering and offsets the low seeding rate.

In the video, Livesey also discusses the importance of head count, the need for strong fertility and the role fungicides play in helping manage disease throughout a long growing season.

What can Canadian growers learn from their Kiwi counterparts? Livesey feels Canadian growers do a great job considering the environmental challenges posed by the northern climate. One common success factor he sees is early planting. He sees ample evidence of the benefits of early planting in Ontario after a difficult 2018 fall and an equally challenging 2019 spring.

“The fields that went in early were able to establish, get through the challenging winter and through the wet spring,” says Livesey. “They actually look really good and I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw some really good yields.”

Click here for more Wheat School episodes.

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