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Wheat yield contest winner shares strategies

TAGS: Management
Curt Arens Irrigation equipment in wheat field.
CHALLENGES OF 2020: Hail just before harvest, insects and hot, dry weather conditions posed management challenges — even for irrigated wheat.
A producer from Alliance, Neb., gives insights into his successful management program.

The National Wheat Foundation announced its national and state yield contest winners for 2020. Kody Stricker, Alliance, Neb., was one of the state winners, garnering 100.78 bushels per acre on irrigated winter wheat.

It was a good showing, but Stricker says that yields were off in 2020 compared to previous years. “Irrigated was off 10% to 15%, and dryland yields were off 15% to 25%.” Stricker says. They usually reach their irrigated yield goal of 100-plus bushels. On dryland, they like to see 50 bushels per acre. This year, dryland yields hovered between the upper-30- to lower-40-bushel range.

Stricker says wheat is difficult to visually guess the yield. “Sometimes a field looks like 100 bushels, but it turns out in the low-80-bushels-per-acre range,” he says. “Protein this year was a little better than usual due to the hot, dry weather. The range was 9.5% to 13.5%, with irrigated wheat testing less protein than dryland.”

Rotation crop

Winter wheat has been a good rotation crop for Stricker. “We usually plant sugarbeets or corn into the stubble the following year,” he explains. “The stubble helps with wind erosion and helps hold ground moisture, as well as keeping weed pressure down. We strip-till into the stubble the next season.”

Stricker uses a Shelbourne stripper head for harvest, so there is plenty of crop residue left in the field. They usually bale straw off the harvested field to reduce residue density.

The high-yield irrigated field this year was planted to WestBred4303. “It seems to do very well under irrigation, and we haven’t had lodging issues or major disease problems yet," Stricker says. "We purchase all our seed new each year, and we usually pick it up bulk and get it treated at the same time.”

Stricker soil-tests everything before planting. “In the fall, we usually spread dry fertilizer like Rock 40 — which is homogenous, so every granule contains the same amount of nitrogen, phosphorus, sulfur and zinc,” he notes. “This is spread after we harvest our dry edible beans. We work the fertilizer into the soil, and then drill the field.”

Nebraska and national wheat yield contest winners for 2020.

Stricker uses a disk drill on 7.5-inch spacing, shooting for a 2.2-bushels-per-acre seeding rate. “Our soils are medium coarse, with low organic matter and topsoil that is fairly thin,” Stricker adds. “In the spring, we usually dry-spread the remainder of our fertilizer, or we have the option of stream-barring the fertilizer with our self-propelled sprayer.”

Stricker also has the capability to apply liquid starter fertilizer, such as 10-34-0, in furrow. “I have had very good results doing it this way,” he says. “But over the past few years, we have cut this out in order to save some time.”

There were a few challenges in raising wheat in 2020. “We had a light hailstorm come through about a week prior to harvest,” Stricker says. “I think the yield loss was around 15% on the test plot.”

He also noticed more wheat stem sawfly pressure, mostly on dryland acres, but also on the edges of his irrigated fields. “Crop rotation helps with sawfly, but it doesn’t solve it altogether," Stricker says. "This past summer was hot and dry as well, so keeping up with watering on the irrigated wheat was important.”

After the wheat is drilled, Stricker lightly irrigates the field, but they try not to encourage too much growth on the wheat before winter. “But it’s good to get it up and out of the ground to help prevent wind erosion,” he says. “When temperatures are above freezing in the spring, we begin running the pivots more and more. Depending on the year and the amount of rainfall, we probably apply 4 to 8 inches of water. Last year, we were closer to the higher end of that range, or even more.”

Most of their pivots have chemigation injection sites, offering the ability to apply extra nitrogen later in the season to boost protein levels. “Later-season irrigation might help boost test weight as well,” Stricker says.

Beating the challenges

Stricker says that the two biggest challenges for wheat growers are leaf rust and sawfly. “Because we till our irrigated acres and plant into the worked dry bean straw, and because we plant treated seed, we usually don’t experience tan spot,” he says.

The early-leaf diseases tend to strike the dryland acres, especially when Stricker did more no-till. “We switched to minimum till to help with sawfly and to get rid of the sprayer and equipment tracks from past years,” he explains. “Most years, we apply fungicide prior to heading when the flag leaf is out, hiring an aerial applicator or utilizing our self-propelled sprayer with 120-foot booms.”

While Stricker’s strategies wouldn’t work for every wheat farmer, it gives insights into their successful management program. “We think it’s important not to cut corners and to keep doing our best to raise a good crop,” he says. “So, we have tried to not cut too much out of our wheat seed, fertilizer and chemical programs.”

In addition to Stricker, Richard Keiser, Hitchcock County, took first place in the Nebraska dryland winter wheat category with a final yield of 82.72 bushels per acre. Dave Sauder, Garden County, took second with 75.43 bushels per acre.

Read rules and entry details for the 2021 contest online at yieldcontest.wheatfoundation.org.

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