Wheat School: Understanding yield and the "farmer factor"

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The man who wrote the book on wheat production in the United Kingdom says it’s time to throw away that production guide and adopt a new approach to higher wheat yields.

Roger Sylvester-Bradley, who leads the crop performance research team at ADAS Consulting, believes researchers need to learn from the tremendous yield variability they see from farm to farm and field to field. On this episode of RealAgriculture’s Wheat School, Sylvester-Bradley tells agronomist Peter Johnson that wheat yields range from from 50 to 250 bu/ac on farms across the UK, and despite the ongoing efforts of researchers over the past 20 years, they have not been able to push average yields much higher.

But Sylvester-Bradley, who spoke last month at the SouthWest Agricultural Conference, believes researchers have found the answer to lagging wheat performance. He says a data analysis has revealed a “big farm or farmer factor” in yield success. Quite simply: “the best farmers always outyield the researchers.”

This realization is leading Sylvester-Bradley and others to understand that there is no specific recipe for higher wheat yields. “We’re saying, let’s work out on each farm, and ideally on each field, how to best trap that light energy and capture enough water.”

A local and regional approach that allows leading farmers to share why they are successful with other farmers in their area is now being touted as a future research and management strategy, says Sylvester-Bradley. These yield enhancement networks (YEN) create farmer groups that work together to identify production limitations in local areas and test solutions. Click here for an in-depth look at YEN.

Johnson notes that the Canadian wheat industry could learn a lesson or two from the enhancement network approach. He believes there would be significant benefit in learning from farmers who produce high yields rather than relying on small plot research for management insights.

Click here for more Wheat School episodes.

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