Wheat School: Phil Needham on creating wheat yield potential

What’s the yield potential for winter wheat in Ontario?

If you see 150 bu/ac pop up on a well-calibrated yield combine monitor in part of a field, that’s likely your upper-end yield potential, says agronomist Phil Needham of Needham AG Technologies. Typically, however, your monitor will flirt with that big yield number for only moments with the overall field averaging in the 100 bu/ac range.

Many farmers grow frustrated when they see fleeting glimpses of huge wheat potential, but Needham believes they need to view these sightings as opportunities to determine why yield differences occur across the field. At the CerealSmart conference earlier this winter, the Kentucky-based consultant shared his thoughts on the components of wheat yield and how growers can create higher yield potential throughout their fields.

On this episode of RealAgriculture Wheat School, Needham says the next time growers find areas of the field that are above the average, he wants them to stop the combine for a minute, grab some flags and mark the area. When they have time to return the spot, the first thing to do is to count the stems to determine head count in the area. Needham says about 600 evenly distributed  heads per square metre, protected all the way to dry down with a good fungicide program will produce maximum yield in Ontario. (Story continues after the video.)

The challenge then, says Needham, is to determine what is happening in other areas of the field to siphon away yield. Is it a fertility problem, possibly low phosphorus? Is it a rolling field where nitrogen is limiting performance on hills and knolls? What about sulphur, disease, weeds and lodging? Needham says the poorer performance likely results from a combination of all of the above.

Needham also notes that spikelets per head and the number of grains per spikelet are key components of yield, but the most important factor is uniformity of stands and plant growth. Many times, the biggest challenge in creating those all-important uniform stands is managing the residue of the previous crop and spreading it evenly off the combine.

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