What we learned about growing wheat in 2022

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How can growers push wheat yields to new levels?

That’s a question we asked many times on RealAgriculture Wheat School during 2022. Throughout the season wheat researchers, agronomists and growers weighed in offering insights from research sites and farms in eastern and western Canada. Here’s a look back at what we learned.

On our first episode, Jeremy Boychyn, agronomy research extension specialist with Alberta Wheat and Barley Commissions, shares how each leaf of the wheat plant builds yield and how this knowledge helps inform decisions to best manage risk.

“One of the common themes we talk about is flag leaf versus penultimate leaf, versus antepenultimate leaf. And what we’re talking about there is essentially, the flag leaf is at the top leaf of the plant. It’s the last leaf that comes out before we see head emergence. The penultimate is essentially the next leaf down from the flag leaf, and then the antepenultimate would be the third leaf down. And then there’s F4, which would be the lowest leaf before we get into the tillering leaves,” he explains.

When thinking about yield contribution, each of these leaves each contribute a different amount to the final yield, which is why fungicide timing, especially, can become crucial if disease threatens the top two leaves.

This year, the wheat school published a series of episodes focusing on the Great Lakes Yield Enhancement Network (YEN).  Grain Farmers of Ontario, Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, Michigan Wheat Program, Michigan State University, and the University of Guelph, launched the YEN project to help farmers and the industry build insights and knowledge about practices and other factors impacting yield. In its inaugural year, 2021, it focused solely on winter wheat, working with 40 farmers from Ontario and Michigan, U.S., to determine the difference in their actual and potential yields.

Check out all 2022 Wheat School videos

Fine-tuning nitrogen and managing lodging are two key strategies that helped earn London, Ont., wheat grower Jeff Cook a third-place finish in the 2021 YEN overall yield category. On this episode of RealAgriculture’s Wheat School, Cook speaks with RealAgriculture agronomist Peter Johnson and shares how he grew 148.6 bu/ac to earn the Bronze award in the pilot year for the Great Lakes YEN.

Johnson was also joined by Simcoe, Ont., grower Kevin Van Netten who earned first place in the YEN’s overall yield category. He shared how attention to detail and some help from Mother Nature produced a 152.8 bu/ac to earn the Gold award.

Managing inputs like the fertilizer growers use to produce yield was also a focus for Wheat School in 2022. With the federal government’s pursuit of  a 30 per cent reduction in fertilizer emissions, specifically from nitrogen, the name of the game now is, how? On this episode, Dr. Sheri Strydhorst, agronomy research specialist with the Alberta Wheat and Barley Commission, talks about the nitrogen cycle and takes a scientific approach to identify where the greatest opportunity for nitrogen loss in the way of emissions is, and how growers can combat it.

In the field, growers are also using an increasing number of management tools to protect and enhance yield. In May, we visited an Ontario wheat field with Syngenta agronomic service representative Marijka Vanderlaan to assess application timing for plant growth regulators. Quite simply, Vanderlaan says PGRs are all about preventing and reducing lodging risk. They also allow growers to more intensely manage their crop by using higher nitrogen rates to drive yield, for example, while helping plants build a stronger base and stand through to harvest.

In this video, Vanderlaan notes that as tillering winter wheat moves into stem elongation it’s time to assess the lodging potential of the crop and determine whether a plant growth regulator (PGR) should be applied.

It’s also critical to protect wheat plants from yield-robbing pests like wireworm. Not only can they cause extreme damage to the crop, they are incredibly difficult to control.

John Laurie, research scientist of molecular biology with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC), and Haley Catton, research scientist of field crop entomology at AAFC, have been working on ways to further understand the insect, and develop more control options. Although still in the early stages, the duo is working with RNA technology, so they can see which RNA are expressed within the cell of their target species. On this episode, the duo discuss how RNAi technology could potentially protect wheat from the pests.

Peter Johnson also visited the wheat research plots at C&M Seeds near Palmerston, Ont. this summer. He and C&M research agronomist Mike Holzworth tour the plots to gain a better understanding of how the challenging fall 2021 planting conditions impacted winter wheat planting dates.

The research plots were planted at three different dates, ranging from relatively early to late — Oct. 2, Oct. 29, and Nov 8. In the video, the benefits of early planting are obvious. Holzworth notes that he didn’t see the Nov. 8-planted wheat last year, but it did arrive this spring and it’s looked good.

Holzworth feels the earlier-planted wheat will easily win the day. He predicts a 15 to 20 bu/ac yield advantage for the wheat planted Oct. 2.

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