February 14, 2022
A successful pilot program to help Michigan, Ohio and Canadian wheat growers improve crop returns is expanding, not only doubling the number of farms served, but also branching out into new states — including New York, Kentucky and Indiana.
The Great Lakes Yield Enhancement Network is focusing on closing the gap between potential yield and actual yield by understanding the limiting factors. The network collects data on every aspect of wheat production, compiles it and uses it to develop detailed reports for growers, who can then compare results to other growers in the group.
While some of the information is confidential regarding individual farms, growers are able to compare their yields to others using benchmarking. “It’s a box and whisker plot, which is a statistical term showing the range of values for every data point,” says Dennis Pennington, Michigan State University wheat specialist.
Great Lakes YEN, which started in 2021 as a collaboration between 18 growers in Michigan, 23 in Ontario and two in Ohio, now has more than 100 participants for next growing season. Some slots are still available for growers in the U.S., but the Canadian arm of the program is full. The final date to register is Feb. 23, with YEN’s launch meeting being Feb. 25.
The program has three components, including a yield competition, data collection and sharing, and networking of participants. “We are all looking to push yields higher, learn from each other and are willing to share that information about what works and what didn’t,” Pennington says.
Soil and tissue samples throughout the growing season are taken from a 1.5-acre plot, and one entry into the program (most farms have only one) is $250. Costs, which include collection of samples, database management and sample processing, are largely offset by business sponsors.
The YEN project originated in the United Kingdom nine years ago by ADAS, an independent agricultural and environmental consultancy and provider of rural development and policy advice in the U.K.
Great Lakes YEN builds off the work in the U.K. with a collaboration of agricultural stakeholders connecting farmers, agronomists, academics, Extension specialists, agriculture organizations and more.
“Wheat crop management is everything from planting, seeding rates, planting depth, variety selection, timing of planting, fall management, all the way through agronomy — spring fertilizer management, fungicide application and disease management,” Pennington says. “We're learning about yield components, which is made up of a number of factors and how management decisions impact those.”
Mike Stanyard is working with five growers in New York. “I've tried for the last 10 years to improve how we grow wheat in northwest New York, and to treat it more like a cash crop instead of just a rotational crop,” he says. “I've been pushing these high-management wheat practices because we can make money on wheat. We have good soils and a microclimate with lakes Erie and Ontario right here. We just need to find the holes in production to improve yields.”
New York had the highest average yield of 77 bushels per acre in 2021, but persistent rains just before harvest caused sprouting, and most of it went for the feed market.
Eighty percent of the wheat grown in New York is in nine counties in the northwest, Stanyard says. “In this area, we grow maybe 120,000 acres of wheat, but compare that to neighbors to the north in Ontario who grow a million acres. There is more potential.”
Building results and first-year winners
With just 2021 results to draw on, Pennington says there’s not anywhere near enough data to report clear conclusions. “We have only 43 data points from one growing season,” he says. “We can see trends in the data from Year 1, but that’s all they are.”
One conclusion from 2021 was the most limiting resource was water, with some areas on the drought monitor from flowering through early grain fill.
“The longer-term goal is to use the data we generate to create benchmarks for each data point and report them back to each participant,” Pennington says. “That way we can say, if this number is below the benchmark, you need to figure out why and how to correct it for next year.”
The maximum yield potential is based on what resources are available and what's limiting. “That’s assuming everything is perfect,” Pennington says. “This year, the percent of yield potential ranged from 29% to 73%.”
In the 2021 crop, the first-place winner in yield was Kevin Van Netten of Simcoe, Ontario, with 152.8 bushels per acre — 61.4% of the potential yield of 248.9 bushel per acre. The crop was seeded with minimal tillage Oct. 10, with 1.7 million seeds per acre; 156 pounds of split nitrogen was applied, as well as a plant growth regulator and one fungicide.
Garnering the top prize for percentage of yield potential was Jeff Krohn of Owendale, Mich., with 140.6 bushels per acre — 73.7% of his crop’s 190.8 bushel-per-acre yield potential. With minimal tillage, he planted 1.08 million seeds per acre Sept. 19 following dry beans. He applied a single application of 130 pounds of nitrogen, as well as a plant growth regulator and two fungicides (T1and T3).
Pennington and a grower panel will share more results from the pilot year at the Michigan Wheat Program’s annual meeting Feb. 23 at Eagle Eye Country Club in Bath, Mich. More information can be found at miwheat.org.
For more information on the Great Lakes YEN project, visit greatlakesyen.com or look for the hashtag #GreatLakesYEN.
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