Wheat School: Building yield enhancement networks (YEN)

United Kingdom farmers have a strong yen for higher wheat yields, and they’re turning to yield enhancement networks (YEN) to help them satisfy their craving.

YENs are the brainchild of the research scientists at ADAS, a UK-based independent agricultural and environmental consultancy. “It’s kind of a competition, but the main focus is sharing information between farmers and learning from one another,” says ADAS crop researcher Ruth Wade, who explained the concept to Ontario farmers attending the 2020 SouthWest Agricultural Conference.

On this episode of RealAgriculture’s Wheat School, Wade tells agronomist Peter Johnson that a YEN for wheat farmers was first launched in 2012 and its growing popularity has fuelled the spread of the concept to six additional crops.

The foundation of the wheat YEN program is a potential yield model that estimates how much yield a farm can produce from their land, which can be used to assess the percentage of yield the farmer is actually achieving. The calculation is based on more than 60 different measurements ranging from grain and soil analysis to crop development throughout the season. It essentially creates benchmarks allowing individual farmers to evaluate their crop’s performance and compare their efforts to other farmers in the competition. (Story continues after the video.)

More than 200 farmers entered the 2019 YEN, Wade reports. The program is now attracting growers from across Europe and has even crossed the pond to North America — Prince Edward Island grain farmers launched their own YEN in 2019.

Johnson believes regional YENs would have a positive impact on wheat production across Canada. Wade says results from eight years of competition indicate UK farmers, on average, produce about 60 percent of their yield potential, “but some farmers are getting up to 95 percent of what we think is biophysically possible on their land.”

Wade adds that one farmer has consistently won the competition over a number of years. She believes that indicates there’s much more to yield than changing environmental and growing conditions from year to year. “It’s more about the practices of the farmer that is allowing him to consistently produce a great yield,” says Wade. “We can learn so much from this farmer.”

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