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Wheat champions share secrets

Courtesy of the Krohn family Krohn family standing in front of Case IH combine
WHEAT WINNER: Jeff Krohn (center), owner of Krohn Acres in Owendale, Mich., with wife Stephanie, was the first-place winner in the National Wheat Yield Contest’s winter wheat dryland category with 140.54 bushels of soft white wheat. He farms with his sons Brandon (left) and Nathan, who is pictured with his wife, Amber.
Regional producers sweep the dryland winter wheat contest.

Crop contests can present an interesting dilemma. It’s nice to get recognized for a good yield, but like everything else on the farm, it takes time to do.

Scott Poffenberger, farm manager of Willard Farms in Montgomery County, Md., faced that dilemma this past spring, but he made time to get his contest plot planted.

“I knew I had pretty decent wheat,” he says. So decent that he won this year’s Bin Buster Award in the National Wheat Yield Contest’s winter wheat dryland category.

The contest requires a minimum 5-acre plot with a contiguous 1.5 acres harvested.

Poffenberger’s field of Pioneer 26R59 yielded 141.41 bushels per acre, the highest in the category and just ahead of the official first-place winner, Jeff Krohn of Owendale, Mich., whose Dyna-Gro 9242 yielded 140.54 bushels.

In second place, Brian Kreider of Lebanon, Pa., wasn’t far behind with his Pioneer 25R74 yielding 140.42 bushels per acre. Douglas Goyings of Paulding, Ohio, came in third with his Strike 403 yielding 138.26 bushels per acre.

Poffenberger manages 2,500 acres of corn, soybeans, sorghum and wheat. About 500 acres are full-season soybeans, while the remainder goes behind wheat as a double crop. Occasionally, sorghum follows winter wheat as a double crop.

Success starts in fall

Poffenberger credits good weather last fall that enabled him to apply some phosphorus and potassium for growth as well as a micronutrient. A warmer-than-usual winter enabled the wheat to withstand the season with no problems.

Mother Nature provided some timely rains earlier this spring, and then shut off the valves in time for harvest. Poffenberger also applied some fungicide and insecticide a little earlier, at about Feekes 6.

“Mother Nature did the rest for us,” he says.

The rest of his fields averaged between 105-107 bushels per acre. “It was the best wheat-growing year we’ve had. We’ve had a lot of poor years, head scab two or three years ago,” Poffenberger says.

Kreider credits proper seed population and good fertility for his high yield, but he also tried some new things. This was the first year that he had tissue testing done and followed recommendations from an agronomist. The tests showed that his field was slightly deficient in boron, and he went ahead and applied some.

The results speak for themselves, but like Poffenberger, Kreider says the foundation for his success was laid the previous fall, making sure his phosphorus and potassium levels were appropriate and applying some nitrogen.

“Everything was working in our favor and kept growing,” says Kreider, who grows 30 acres of wheat out of 300 total acres of mostly corn and soybeans. He runs a cow-calf operation that includes 15 beef cows and a small feedlot with 100 head.

First-place formula

First-place winner Jeff Krohn of Krohn Acres is farming 2,000 acres of corn, wheat, dry beans, soybeans and alfalfa just outside Elkton, Mich. Five different varieties of soft white winter wheat are grown on about 500 of those acres.

He farms with his sons, Nathan and Brandon, who are fifth-generation farmers.

They grow high-management wheat as part of the Great Lakes Yield Enhancement Network (YEN), which is focused on connecting agricultural organizations, Extension specialists, academics, agronomists and farmers who are striving to improve crop returns and unlock the potential of the field by closing the gap between potential yield and actual yield. 

Krohn is making several input applications and collecting lots of data that will be shared with other participants. “Inputs are not cheap,” he says. “We're putting a lot into the wheat, but we're expecting a lot out of it. Everything we do has to show a return.”

As part of YEN, participants are encouraged to enter state and national contests. This was his first national entry.

He pulls soil samples using a 2.5-acre grid and variably applies phosphorus and potassium about 15 to 18 pounds per acre with sulfur to get the crop growing. Wheat is planted in the fall using a 5-inch, narrow-row drill, deviating from the standard 7.5-inch drill.

“We’ve had many trials, and we’ve been doing this for about seven years now,” he says. “It produces a quicker canopy, and we're seeing anywhere from a 5%-to-15% yield advantage.”

He’s using a low seeding rate of less than 1 million seeds per acre and relies on the plant to make more tillers, which equates to more heads.

Krohn split-applies 135 pounds of nitrogen per acre, including about half in spring dormancy. Included in those applications is 22 pounds per acre of sulfur.

“One of the keys to growing good wheat is having adequate sulfur,” he says.

Tissue samples, collected midseason, are used to determine foliar feeding with micronutrients.

Fungicides were applied at 10 inches (Feekes stage 6) to combat powdery mildew and leaf rust, while the second application is at flowering to thwart fusarium head blight. His proactive maintenance kept disease and pest pressure at bay.

The highest wheat yield he’s ever gotten was 165 bushels when growing conditions were better.

“We had the potential for that this year, but it was very hot and dry weather during pollination, and it easily knocked 20 to 30 bushels off our top,” Krohn says.

Harvest was in mid-July, and that didn’t go as smoothly as hoped, either. Even though Krohn applies a growth regulator, Palisade, to shorten the wheat and help prevent lodging, a massive thunderstorm left its mark, laying the entire field down.

“My son is still grumbling about trying to harvest that, but must have done a good job for us to get that kind of yield,” he says.

TAGS: Management
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