Record wheat yield attempt slips up but lessons learned

A world wheat yield record attempt in Shropshire unearthed some valuable lessons towards achieving greater output. David Jones makes his third visit to see how one grower fared in his quest to capture his brother’s global yield crown.

Richard Solari has just cut a bumper harvest on his light land Shropshire arable farm, although his biggest surprise was his world record attempt wheat field.

His winter wheat and barley crops produced his best ever yields this summer, while potato and combine pea crops also performed well in a good growing year.

The winter wheat field set up to try and beat his brother’s world wheat yield record achieved in New Zealand looked fine throughout the season until the combine started work

RICHARD SOLARI’S WINTER WHEAT CROP DETAILS

  • Variety – Oakley
  • Area – 24ha
  • Previous crop – spring peas
  • Cultivation – plough and power harrow
  • Drilling date – 22 September 2013
  • Seed rate – 110 kg/ha, aimed to give 200 plants/sq m in the spring
  • Potash – 150kg/ha in December and 75kg/ha in April
  • Harvest date – 23/24 August 2014
  • Yield – 10.07t/ha

NITROGEN FERTILISER

  • 24 February – 50kg/ha + sulphur
  • 26 March – 65kg/ha
  • 17 April – 125kg/ha + sulphur
  • 18 May – 100 kg/ha
  • Total nitrogen – 340 kg/ha

FUNGICIDE AND PLANT GROWTH REGULATOR (PGR) PROGRAMME

  • March 10 – T-1 – fungicide + PGR
  • March 27 – T0 – fungicide + PRG
  • April 7 – Extra spray (T0.5) – fungicide
  • April 16 – T1 – fungicide + PGR
  • May 11 – T2 – fungicide + PGR
  • June 5 – T3 – fungicide

Impressive crop

Even in July, the wheat crop looked impressive when a group of visiting farmers took a look across the field in which he had just started irrigating.

Suspicions were aroused when the crop failed to stay green until the end of July and it appeared not to have had the nutrition it needed to break any records.

“It looked as if it just ran out of steam and simply didn’t have the nutrients required,” he says.

There was little disease, no shortage of water after irrigation and plenty of sun in July, yet the combine recorded a yield of only a touch above 10t/ha.

See also: World wheat record attempt turns to water

Mr Solari had two Enviroscan probes in the field, which showed that water was not taken up by wheat plants below half a metre, giving a clear indication that the roots had not gone down that far on his free-draining soils.

Harvesting the field in late August, Mr Solari had to drop the speed of his combine by a half to deal with the huge biomass, but the resulting grain yield was unfortunately not in the world record-breaking category.

Examining a combined sample of grain, he says half the grains were perfect, a quarter were normal-sized, while the rest of the sampe was too small and pinched.

His agronomist Neil Buchanan takes up the story. He agrees that in such a wet winter the wheat crop had not developed an adequate root system for future growth.

The field chosen for the attempt was the heaviest on the 500ha arable Heath House Farm, Beckbury, near Shifnal, some 10 miles west of Wolverhampton, and the roots did not need to explore deeply for water in the wet winter.

“It appears we had the crop structure above the ground, but perhaps not the structure below the ground to support the enhanced biomass,” says Mr Buchanan from distributor Agrovista.

He adds that it was so wet in the winter it limited what field operations could have been done from the late autumn onwards, even on the farm’s light sandy loam soils.

Ian Matts, agronomist with fertiliser giant Yara, continues the autumn theme. He suggests a lower seed rate could have been used and, if conditions had allowed, a foliar feed in the late autumn.

Biomass production

A slightly lower seed rate could have limited the huge biomass produced, while some autumn nutrition may have been an advantage, Mr Matts adds.

With Mr Solari’s farm being in a nitrogen vulnerable zone where there is a danger of nitrogen leaching into the watercourse, autumn nitrogen fertiliser is ruled out.

However, Mr Matts was aware that a foliar feed containing manganese, copper and zinc would have helped the crop if it had been physically possible to get on the field and apply it.

Mr Solari was surprised rather than disappointed at a final yield of 10.07t/ha, but his quest will go on to find what makes up a record crop of winter wheat.

For this season, he may try two smaller plots of 5ha each, and will go for a different variety rather than the yellow-rust susceptible Oakley, which has been dropped from the farm.

He will look to feed the crop in the autumn and apply more nitrogen. His brother Mike in New Zealand went for 450kg/ha of nitrogen, and splits the application as many as seven times, to get his world record yield of 15.6t/ha.

The record attempt field in Shropshire received a high nitrogen application of 340kg/ha and a six-fungicide spray programme.

The crop also benefited from residual nitrogen as it followed combine peas in a five-year winter wheat-peas-winter wheat-winter barley-potatoes rotation.

On the rest of the farm it was a different picture. His winter wheat averaged 10.25t/ha consisting of Oakley and also Kielder, Dickens and Relay.

His winter barleys, mainly Cassia with some Glacier, averaged 9.6t/ha and Odyssey malting spring barley made 8.7t/ha.

One field of Oakley on the farm recorded a yield of 12t/ha, and one of Dickens 12.14t/ha. These two fields had a “commercial” sprayer input of about £250/ha compared with the record-attempt field of £350/ha.

These amounts include everything that went through the sprayer such as fungicides, herbicides, plant growth regulators and foliar feeds.

The variety Oakley had given Mr Solari his highest yield ever in 2011 of 14.1t/ha in an irrigated crop, but the variety will disappear this season due to its yellow rust weakness.

“Oakley has yet again performed well, but it is getting costly to grow because of the yellow rust problem,” says Mr Buchanan.

The six-spray fungicide regime was needed to keep the disease at bay, and there are now better varieties without the problems of Oakley.

The record-breaking attempt was entered into the Yield Enhancement Network (YEN) competition run by crop scientists group Adas.

The top yield from 2013, the first year of the YEN competition, was 13.41t/ha, while the British wheat record yield of 14.31t/ha was also achieved that year.


New tactics for this year

  • New variety – Dickens, Evolution or Kielder
  • Micro nutrient foliar feed in the autumn
  • More nitrogen, and more splits
  • More sulphur and potash
  • Look to manipulate tillering in autumn using PGRs

A YEN date has been set for November

yen logoThe winners of this season’s Yield Enhancement Network (YEN) competition are set to be announced on 13 November by organiser Adas.

Last year, the two winners of the YEN in its inaugural year were Mark Means from north-west Norfolk, who grew the highest yield of winter wheat at 13.41t/ha, while just over the border in Lincolnshire Robert Pask achieved the highest potential yield of winter wheat on his light limestone brash soils of 11.9t/ha, or some 69% of his calculated crop potential.

For more information on the yield competition see www.yen.adas.co.uk

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