What does it take to grow 258-bushel-per-acre wheat?
On this episode of RealAgriculture’s Wheat School, Peter Johnson peppers New Zealand wheat grower Eric Watson on how he achieved that world record wheat yield in 202o. His record has since been broken but the Ashburton, New Zealand farmer is now planning another assault on the record books.
Johnson caught up with Watson earlier this month during a Great Lakes Yield Enhancement Network tour though Ontario and Michigan. In the interview, Watson shares what he feels are the keys to growing big wheat and also offers insights on how his tips could be implemented in very different northern hemisphere growing conditions across Canada and specifically in Ontario.
Watson’s first tip is the importance of planting date and seeding rate. Growers need to target the optimum planting timing for their area and need to avoid being either too thick or too thin with the seeding rate. He also targets high tiller counts. Typically, he aims for nine or 10 tillers per plant but is willing to settle for six to eight.
The high tiller count then makes it possible for Watson to reach his 700-plus heads per square metre target — he has reached the 1,000 heads mark on several occasions. That makes for a pretty thick crop, but Watson notes that heads are only part of the yield equation — more kernels per head and higher grain weight are key yield contributors, too.
Johnson and Watson compare and contrast Canadian and New Zealand growing conditions, but they do agree that timely management is key to a high-yielding wheat crop, regardless of where it’s planted. In the video, Watson also shares how he manages his crop in-season — from fungicide and plant growth regulators to crop nutrients and insecticides — and why correct rates and application timing is critical.
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