Posted February 24, 2020
Researchers at Kansas State University are looking to the experts – commercial wheat growers – on real-world best management practices for improving wheat yields in the state. This study is supported by Kansas wheat farmers through the Kansas Wheat Commission’s two penny wheat assessment, and not only gives a snapshot of how wheat is managed, but more importantly how management practices are associated with yield.
Dr. Romulo Lollato, K-State’s Extension Wheat Specialist, and Brent Jaenisch, a K-State Ph.D. student in agronomy, have been gathering field-specific wheat management practices from farmers across the state. The main objective of this project is to collect information on a field level about wheat management strategies (i.e. planting date, variety selection, yield, etc.) for hundreds of wheat fields throughout Kansas.
The study covered a total of about 700 fields from three regions: west, north central and south central Kansas. These regions were chosen because of their importance in terms of wheat acreage in Kansas, and fields were grouped within region due to the similar weather conditions of temperature and rainfall. Planting date, seed rate, fungicide use and amount and timing of nitrogen applied were management strategies that had the greatest effects on yield.
The research shows that planting dates can have a huge impact on yield potential, but the optimal sowing date varies by region. Western Kansas farmers have an optimal date of September 28, north central’s optimal date is October 10 and south central’s is October 12. Western Kansas had a much earlier ideal planting date, since it is at a higher elevation and gets colder earlier in the fall. Planting after these optimal dates can mean substantial penalties to the crop’s yield potential. The south central region loses about 1.1 bushels per day for around 20 days following October 12, but that loss increases to around 2.7 bushels per day when planting is delayed into mid November. North central Kansas consistently loses about 2.1 bushels per day after its optimum planting date. Planting late in western Kansas meant farmers saw a 3.5 bushel an acre per day decrease in yield potential.
When the researchers compared management practices between high-yielding and low-yielding fields, they noted that more nitrogen regularly led to higher yields in south central and north central Kansas; however, the addition of nitrogen in western Kansas did not affect yields. This is likely due to the fact that in western Kansas there is more nitrogen remaining in the soil that carried from the previous crop.
Overall, all regions saw yield improvements with foliar fungicide application. About 55% of the central Kansas farmers applied fungicide, while only 40% of western Kansas farmers chose to adopt this management practice. When no fungicide was applied, variety rust tolerance became the most important factor for increasing yield.
The goal for this survey is to help other farmers get ideas on what methods work and can be tried on their own personal operations. The data collected from this study will be used for determining what factors contributed the most to improved wheat yields. At the conclusion of the study later this year, the researchers hope to put a value on the price of these management practices compared to the return on the investment that farmers could see in terms of yield improvement. Overall, farmers will be able use this information to make decisions that affect the profitability and sustainability of their farms.
“There is a lot of talk on sustainability,” said Dr. Lollato. “A sustainable farm should yield and make money. You also need to leave your farm in good shape for the next generation. With those two pillars — making money now and leaving it in good shape for the next generation — we have a lot of data to calculate that.”
They contacted farmers to take the survey with aid from the Kansas Wheat Commission, Kansas Crop Improvement Association, preplant schools and through county extension agents. The survey also included information on sulfur usage, more data on nitrogen source, method, and timing, along with other management practices.
There is still time for additional wheat growers to get involved in this study, especially farmers in western Kansas. The more farmers involved, the stronger the data will be, and this will be a better resource for wheat farmers across the state.
If interested, contact Brent Jaenisch at 320-226-7499 or visit http://kswheat.com/researchsurvey.