Why wheat on the Wolds broke the yield world record

Faced with a wall of wheat, Tim Lamyman slowed his combine down and turned off the straw chopper to harvest the highest-yielding wheat crop the world has ever seen.

The crop stood out across the Lincolnshire Wolds as the one staying green for longest through the summer grain-filling period to produce a thick forest of wheat ears.

Arial view of wheat being harvested

© Will Selby

See also: Wheat yield world record shattered in Lincolnshire

It was touch-and-go whether the yield recorder in the combine cab would announce a world record, but when the results came back from the weighbridge it was a remarkable result.

The 16.5t/ha yield was 2t/ha higher than Mr Lamyman’s previous UK record in 2014 and a staggering 5% ahead of the previous 15.7t/ha world record achieved by Mike Solari in New Zealand in 2010.

The crop was so thick, the speed of his 25ft Claas Lexion 750 was turned down while chopping straw just to keep the combine moving through the crop.

So how did he grow such a crop on just 300mm of chalky-sandy clay loam soil over solid chalk, 140m above sea level on the Lincolnshire Wolds, with a yield potential of his land calculated by crop scientist group Adas at 17t/ha?

Wheat being harvested

© Will Selby

Mr Lamyman gives three main reasons for his success on his 600ha predominantly arable farm at Worlaby, about six miles south of Louth.

“The crop was so consistent, we could not have done more to get such an even crop at harvest.”
Tim Lamyman
Tim-Lamyman

Variety

He chose the new feed winter wheat Reflection, which is the highest-yielding variety on the AHDB Recommended List, for its good standing power, large hold heads and good resistance to mildew.

The variety has an upright, erect growth habit in early autumn which can make the crop look thin emerging from the ground, but it showed a strong tillering ability in the spring.

The crop was drilled at a relatively low seed rate of 250 seed/sq m, with the aim of achieving 650 ears/sq m at harvest, but it surprised Mr Lamyman by averaged 936 ears at harvest, with more than 1,000 ears in places.

“The crop was so consistent, we could not have done more to get such an even crop at harvest,” he says.

Mr Lamyman believes with such a upright growth habit, a variety such as Reflection will need at least 900 ears/sq m  to get a maximum yield at harvest.

Good mildew resistance is key, as this is the main disease worry on the Wolds. If the disease strikes Mr Lamyman believes it can make the crop more susceptible to other diseases such as rusts and septoria.

Reflection, bred by Syngenta, entered the Recommended List 2015-16 last December as a hard milling feed variety with a yield of 107%, just ahead of Evolution and Kielder on 106%.

Winning formula

  • Soil – Chalky, sandy-clay loam
  • Variety – Reflection
  • Previous crop – Oilseed rape
  • Cultivation – Robust minimum tillage
  • Drilling date – 14 September
  • Seed rate – 110-120kg/ha aiming to give 250 seeds/sq m
  • Harvest date – 22 August
  • Yield – 16.5t/ha at 15% moisture
  • Rotation – Eight-year rotation of winter wheat/winter barley/oilseed rape/winter wheat/spring barley/spring barley/spring barley/spring beans.

Autumn treatments

  • Pre-emergence herbicide – Liberator (flufenacet + diflufenican) plus Defy (prosulfocarb)
  • Early October – Foliar feeds Delta and 1-4-All, and Hallmark insecticide (Lambda-cyhalothrin) to control barley yellow dwarf virus
  • Early November – Delta and 1-4-All, plus herbicide pendimethalin
  • Mid-December – Delta and 1-4-All

Spring treatments

  • Early February – Delta and 1-4-All
  • Mid-March – Delta and TipTop, plus T0 Cherokee (propiconazole + cyproconazole + chlorothalonil) and Amistar (azoxystrobin). Plant growth regulator (PGR) chlormequat + Moddus (trinexapac-ethyl).
  • Mid-April – Delta and TipTop, plus T1 Keystone (isopyrazam+epoxiconazole) and Bravo (chlorothalonil), plus PGR chlormequat + Moddus.
  • Early May – Delta and TipTop (T1-½)
  • Late May -– Delta and TipTop plus T2 Keystone + Bravo, and PGR Cerone (ethephon)
  • Mid -June – Delta and TipTop plus T3 Proline (prothioconazole) and Amistar Opti (azoxystrobin + chlorothalonil)

Nitrogen fertiliser (ammonium nitrate)

  • February – 70kg/ha plus sulphur
  • March – 70kg/ha plus sulphur
  • April – 70kg/ha plus sulphur
  • May – 120 kg/ha plus sulphur
  • Total – 330kg/ha

Growing season

Mr Lamyman describes the growing season on the Wolds as fantastic, with good sunlight levels and enough moisture to keep the crops growing.

Strong light intensity is key between March and August, and he managed to establish an early thick wheat crop to give as much light interception as possible.

“This season we had maximum light interception by keeping the crop green for as long as possible,” he says.

Last summer, his hopes of a massive crop were dashed as sea frets and dull weather arrived in early August and stayed until harvest time in early September.

This allowed late attacks of septoria and fusarium and cut the yield and specific weight of his harvested grain, although the Kielder crop still managed a UK record of 14.5t/ha.

This summer he was helped by better sunlight in August and also by the early maturity of Reflection, and the variety looks as much as two weeks earlier to harvest than Kielder on his farm.

Although the soil in the record-breaking field is only 300mm deep, the chalk below appears to act like a sponge and although free draining, the land is very moisture retentive.

The cool, dry spring prevented diseases developing and a conventional four-spray fungicide programme in the spring kept the top of the crop clean and no disease was seen travelling up from the bottom leaves.

Nutritional programme

The aim on the farm is to retain green leaves in the crop for as long as possible to maximise light interception, and this is helped by feeding the crop through the autumn and spring and into early summer.

This season, Mr Lamyman increased his overall nitrogen fertiliser rate to 330kg/ha in a four-way split, up from 260kg/ha last year, and he has looked to add more potash from the first node stage (GS31) through to ear emergence.

His agronomist Simon Shaw at advisory group Farmacy says they were looking to apply phosphate in the autumn when the plant needs it, and more potash in the spring again when the plant is short of the nutrient.

In addition, the calcium-dominated Wold soils tend to be low in magnesium, so this was addressed throughout the season, says Mr Shaw.

Mr Lamyman’s philosophy is based around feeding the crop throughout the season with foliar feeds to create healthy plants able to grow vigorously and better resist disease.

His foliar feed strategy is based on three products, supplied by Bionature UK:

  • Delta gives a low dose of nitrogen and prompts the production of cytokinin hormones, which encourage rooting.
  • 1-4-All contains a range of minor elements.
  • Tip Top supplies all three of the major nutrients, nitrogen, phosphate and potash.

The products are largely applied with herbicides and fungicides and his nine foliar feeds programme costs about £150/ha, but Mr Lamyman expects the yield benefits to be at least three times the cost.

He believes the record-breaking crop might have yielded about 12t/ha without the foliar feed programme, so the extra 4.5t/ha more pays for the extra expense.

Plant tissue testing throughout the season had thrown up a deficiency of potash in the spring, so the NPK product TipTop was used from mid-March to mid-June.

“The crop was still green when many crop around here were dying back,” Mr Lamyman says.

Ahead of New Zealand

The 330kg/ha nitrogen rate might seem high by UK standards, but Mr Solari in New Zealand used 453kg/ha on his rich river silt soil, and the previous crop before his wheat was peas.

Mr Lamyman admits that everything fell into place this year and he and his team could not have done anything better.

Earlier this summer, he broke the world oilseed rape record with a crop yielding 6.7t/ha, and although he plans to work with a new hybrid oilseed rape variety this season, he will be take a break from wheat.

“We have two cracking world records and I will be retiring from another wheat attempt next year,” he says.