MANHATTAN — Wheat varieties with diverse sets of highly-desired traits are widely available to growers these days making it easier to pinpoint the best fit for their operation, even on a field-to-field basis.
These new varieties are constantly pushing the envelope in critical areas like yield and disease resistance but improving management practices is the most effective way to push these cutting-edge genetics to their fullest potential throughout the growing season.
Dr. Romulo Lollato, wheat and forages extension specialist at Kansas State University, conducted an on-farm survey looking at different regions across Kansas to determine which management practices worked best in each location.
He also examined how various management practices worked in dry years versus years with suitable growing conditions. He found planting date, nitrogen application, foliar fungicide applications and tillage practices all play a role in how the wheat crop will yield.
In south-central Kansas, Lollato found the peak sowing date is between Oct. 10 and Oct. 14.
After the optimal planting time passes, wheat may lose a bushel per acre per day. However, in northcentral Kansas, wheat planted after the optimal planting time, around Oct. 10, may lose 2.1 bushels per acre a day.
Western Kansas can lose 3.5 bushels per acre a day if planted after the optimal planting date for that region, which is around Oct. 1.
"Sowing date really affects our yields potential in the region, and the yield penalty ranges from 1 to 4 bushels per acres," Lollato said.
Lollato wants this type of research to benefit the wheat growers.
"This is one of the things I like about this type of research, learning what's working on several fields in Kansas and what is not," Lollato said. "Not only that, but it also helps guide our research program."
During the on-farm survey, Lollato compared the use of applied nitrogen rates and yields in different regions of Kansas.
In north central Kansas, they found yields stabilized at their highest peak when nitrogen was applied at roughly 101 pounds per acre.
South Central Kansas showed yields stabilizing at their highest increase around 73 pounds per acre. Western Kansas did not show any correlation between nitrogen rates and yield.
They had fields with no nitrogen applied and fields with up to 120 pounds applied, and they did not find that either helped yield consistently.
Lollato and his team then broke down the data by region and performance by year. By determining which regions excelled in specific years, he then looked at which management practices thrived given the year's environment.
Lollato found in suitable growing environments, no-till fields yielded higher than conventional tillage.
However, in 2018, when conditions were not as great, yields remained the same between no-till and conventional tillage.
When it came to seed treatment, Lollato found when using an insecticide and fungicide in more suitable years, wheat yields were higher than not using a seed treatment. The same goes for using a foliar fungicide during good years.
Lollato found that the number of foliar fungicides applied made a significant difference in yield. Fields with two foliar fungicides applied performed significantly better than fields that had none or even one applied.
However, in the drier years, using a foliar fungicide would boost yields, but the lucky number wasn't two. Instead, using just one foliar fungicide treatment during the bad years helped boost yields.
Sulfur applications and micronutrient applications rarely made yields budge during the years with suitable environments, but they could improve yields during drier years.
Research like this benefits wheat growers in more ways than one. Not only will growers know which agronomic practices increase yields during adequate growing seasons, but also during ones when rainfall is scarce. This can help save farmers' dollars in the long-run.
Farmers may have the best performing wheat varieties planted in their fields, but in order for them to reach a top yield potential, management practices help take it to the finish line.
This research was funded by the Kansas Wheat Commission with other support coming from Kansas Wheat Alliance.
For more information about Kansas Wheat Alliance, visit kswheatalliance.org.