Waiting on wheat
Tenacity and technology are giving wheat a boost in southern Minnesota.
Armed with improved varieties and approved fungicides, a small group of farmers is proving that spring and winter wheat work well in their corn-soybean rotations. Four years ago, the farmers formed the Southern Minnesota Wheat Growers Association. Their goal? To develop a profitable regional wheat market, particularly for winter wheat, and to push toward 100-bushel yields.
• Farmers in southern Minnesota are enthusiastic about wheat.
• Wheat is used as food for humans and bovines.
• Intensive management can yield 100 bushels per acre.
The small yet determined group continues to meet and share crop trial data. They have a steady market for their crop: Millers demand specific wheat protein levels for blending, and crude oil pipeline companies and dairy farmers want certified weed-free or high-quality straw. Pipeline companies use it for mulch to cover ground after digging. Dairy farmers use the straw to buffer total mixed rations and add rumen fill. Premiums for straw alone range from 50% to 75% above regular market prices.
One of the group’s founders, farmer and seed salesman Dick Stangler, Kilkenny, organizes the wheat research trials and does whole-field analysis to evaluate varieties, fertility and fungicides.
“We’ve been leaning toward winter wheat research because spring wheat yield has been stuck,” he says.
With the new varieties of winter wheat, coupled with more intensive management, 100-bushel yields are within reach.
Ken Pomije, Montgomery, has been growing winter wheat for two decades and has experienced the crop’s evolution. Years ago, farmers had limited varieties to choose from. After they planted, they just let it go without paying attention to fertility or disease control.
“Fifteen years ago, winter wheat grew up to your armpits and twisted up. Now, depending on the variety, it’s 6 to 10 inches shorter, and we know how to fertilize and handle it,” he says. He has consistent success with Expedition, a semi-dwarf, hard red variety. It grows 36 to 38 inches tall, has good-to-excellent winter hardiness and consistently yields for him. He’s also tried another hard red variety, Jerry, but he wasn’t impressed. It grew too tall and was susceptible to scab.
Over the last four years, Pomije has won awards from the southern growers’ group for top winter wheat yields. In 2007, he hit 93 bushels per acre; in 2008, 84 bushels; and in 2006 and 2009, 80 bushels.
On 36 acres where Expedition followed green peas last year, Pomije saw protein average 13.5%.
“That’s unheard of in winter wheat,” he says.
This article published in the March, 2010 edition of THE FARMER.