The Agronomists, Ep 103: Digging in to a wheat Yield Enhancement Network, with Peter Johnson and Dennis Pennington

A Yield Enhancement Network (YEN) isn’t a yield contest, per se; instead it’s a field-scale learning experience for growers looking to take yield to the next level. In Ontario, the Great Lakes YEN is entering its third year, and has attracted more growers each year.

Farmers who participate in the network also tend to sign up again the following year — what’s the draw? For those answers we go to Dennis Pennington, wheat specialist with Michigan State University, and RealAgriculture’s resident agronomist Peter Johnson.

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  • Special guest host Bernard Tobin takes the mic
  • We’re talking Yield Enhancement Networks (YEN)
  • The Great Lakes YEN is focused on wheat
  • It started in 2021 with 43 growers and grew to 98 growers in 2022, likely to bloom to 170 growers for 2023
  • Many farmers get excited with they see the report and the information that they get out of this
  • This is a program that makes you get out in your field and walk it out and it’ll force you to take a perspective that maybe you haven’t looked at before
  • It’s resulted in a world record in the UK
  • YENs get past small plot research
  • It’s not just a yield contest, it’s about reaching potential
  • Farming is an art, but the art is just the science we don’t understand yet
  • Let’s look at 2021: Big potential. It was the year to throw the kitchen sink at it! But then, dry June and July. Even though we had incredible potential, the outcome was good, but it was not the record that Johnson was expecting
  • What about 2022? Crops started out with with a little bit of difficulty; we had a lot of rain. But it ended up not being quite as bad as what we thought it was gonna be!
  • The spring was the opposite of ’21 — it looked lame, but Ontario record wheat yield in the province of Ontario in 2022 to 99.7 bushels per acre
  • What are some differences we can discern between the years? First year of the program, the overall average of the 43 growers was 115 bushels, and year two was 116.
  • The yield potential as 23 bushels apart, and you go wow, and part of that is geography for sure
  • That’s a 10 per cent difference in yield potential. And we end up with less than 1 per cent difference in actual yield. How you end up there?
  • Grain fill, baby
  • How do you determine yield potential or potential yield?
  • Potential yield is determined as the crops ability to take up resources including sunlight and water and convert that into biomass, and then during the grain fill period convert that biomass into grain using a harvest index. We use the total amount of water available to the crop and that is calculated as what’s available in the soil, plus the rainfall up to physiological maturity
  • It’s just kind of a fancy calculation. Some growers are achieving 100 per cent of their yield potential
  • As an aside, barley YEN winner in the UK  hit 131 per cent of yield potential
  • What about heads per meter squared? It might not be 100 per cent accurate
  • What is the thing that gives these high yields?Is it biomass? Is it heads per meter squared? Is it seeds per meter squared? 1000 kernel weight?
  • There’s not one single answer
  • It boggles Pete’s brain that we can get those kinds of ranges in biomass — 6500 to 21,000, that’s three times!
  • N strategy: is three passes necessary? Flag leaf timing?
  • What about lodging?
  • What do the top 20 growers do compared to the bottom 20 growers?
  • Question: What are some strategies to reduce nitrogen burn when applied at flag leaf? Heavy dew is good, damp is actually worse
  • Is there an ideal seeding rate?
  • What about costs? Economics play in here too
  • Looking ahead to 2023 — so much potential!


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