How do you achieve a record setting wheat yield of nearly 259 bushels per acre? That’s a figure not every farmer in the world can shoot for. And no doubt it helps if you farm in New Zealand, have good soil, irrigation, and a 10-month growing season.
And like I say, it is not a yield that every farmer, especially those dryland farmers on the Canadian prairies with a four to five month growing season, and certainly unpredictable moisture can expect to produce, but it does reveal the yield potential that is wrapped up in a kernel of wheat.
New Zealand farmer Eric Watson and one of his crop advisors, David Weith territory sales manager with Bayer Crop Science in New Zealand, both recently gave a zoomed-in presentation at the Ontario Agricultural Conference in early January.
I also had a few emails with Weith in December 2020in which he helped explain what went into producing Watson’s second record setting wheat yield. I would have connected with Watson but it was the hectic summer season there in New Zealand.
Anyway, from emails and other video presentations, here is what I learned went into producing a recording setting 258.8 bushels per acre yield on Eric Watsons farm at Ashburton, NZ during the harvest of February 2020.
It was his second subsequent world record yield confirmed by The Guinness World Record organization. In 2017 Watson produced a 249.66 bushel wheat yield on the same field. He bested that by about 10 bushels per acre in 2020. These are impressive yields in that South Canterbury region where more average wheat yields are in the 12 T/ha or 178 bushel/acre range.
Watson, who farms with his wife Maxine, grew the record wheat crop on a 21 acre irrigated field. He selected a feed wheat variety Kerrin, developed by KWS Seeds Inc. of Germany. The crop was seeded in April at a rate of 62 lbs of seed per acre, which produce a wheat plant count of 11.5 plants per square foot. New Zealand has a 10-month growing season.
Working with Weith, territory sales manager with Bayer Crop Science there were a number of inputs including pre-emergence as well as in-crop weed control and fungicide treatments.
The high fertility program included about 267 lbs/ac of all-liquid nitrogen applied in eight different applications between April and November. Along with nitrogen the crop received about 40 lbs of phosphorus, 89 lbs of potassium and 78 lbs of sulphur.
Also between May and November there were six applications of micronutrient products produced by Yara that included magnesium, manganese, zinc, copper and boron.
Watson says he has always been passionate about farming since he left school and started on his own in 1967.
“The Guinness World Record is a nice recognition of our hard work and new innovations we’ve put in place,” Watson says in a video interview. “We were pleased with what we accomplished in the 2017 record result, but we also saw where we could make improvements and achieve an even higher yield.”
Along with trying a new cultivar, he also believes using all-liquid nitrogen and close monitoring of plant health, “helped us to achieve another incredible result in 2020”.
“With our precision farming methods and using liquid nitrogen it helped to even out production over the paddock. We are pleased if we see yields increase year-on-year by 100-200 kilograms/ha. So, to beat my last crop by almost 600kg/ha (about nine bushels) exceeded even my hopes.”
Weith who has worked with Eric Watson for many years, says Watson aims to be “perfectionist” and do the best job possible with all field crops. The average wheat yield on Watson’s farm is 15T/ha, while the New Zealand average yield is closer to 12 T/ha.
“The fixed costs are the same for a 15T crop verses a 12T crop,” says Weith. “On the Watson farm all wheat fields are treated the same no matter the variety. The limiting factor is the soil type and field variability.
“As a percentage of cost of production the variable costs such as micronutrients and additional fungicide and insecticide applications are minimal compared to the additional three to five tonne in yield over the New Zealand average yield.
“Eric’s philosophy has always been “yield is king”, says Weith. “Average farmer price for wheat here in New Zealand is $380-400/T. At 17.398T/ha this becomes a very high returning crop.”
Weith says the key factors that helped Watson or can help any producer to optimize yield include: selecting the right field with good soil type; proper fertility; proper disease and insect management; proper variety; proper plant density; adequate moisture and good harvest conditions.
Lee Hart is a field editor with Grainews based in Calgary. Contact him at 403-592-1964 or by email at [email protected]