Thursday August 21, 2014

Chasing monster wheat yields


If there is a Holy Grail for Canadian Prairie farmers it is probably the 100-bushel wheat crop.

There have been rumours of such a thing, although most are a bit like Sasquatch and Loch Ness Monster sightings, a grainy snapshot as much mirage as reality.

All right, there have likely been a few crops which might have hit the lofty yield, but in reality so many factors must fall into place that widespread yields of 100 bushel wheat is frankly little more than a dream, at least at this time.

I say this time recognizing plant breeders have done some amazing things over the years, and they likely hold the key to widespread big bushel crops.

New varieties offer several potential advancements which could push yields generally higher.

Whether through, within wheat selection, or the introduction of genes from other crops through manipulation, there is every likelihood new varieties will offer greater disease resistance to in field infections which hurt yields.

We no longer think about it, but wheat resistant to rust was one of the great steps forward in terms of wheat breeding, and really allowed wheat to become the cornerstone of Prairie agriculture for decades.

New varieties will also offer inherent insect resistance, and the ability to fight weeds with a broader ranger of chemicals than is currently feasible.

Add in some general yield boost via new varieties, and plant breeding becomes critical into the future, something which at times seems lost in a world of cost cutting.

Plant breeding programs are perhaps as critical to the farm future as they have ever been as farmers face more extreme weather patterns, emerging new disease and insect pressures, and changing soil profiles. Plant breeders will need to be well-funded to keep pace with the changing pressures a crop faces in a Prairie field.

But even with the most modern varieties the really big yields come down to a combination of wise planning, and a good share of common luck.

Producers need to plant wheat in the right fields, ones where they know disease and wheat pressures can be controlled.

Seeding rates and even the time of planting play a role in the final yields too.

And then of course Mother Nature always holds the trump in terms of yield.

The timing of spring thaw, the last killing frost of spring and first one in fall, the heat units from the sun, and of course the timeliness of rains all impact yields as much, if not more, than the best agronomic efforts of farmers, or the best varieties coming from plant breeders.

So while farmers and plant breeders should chase the elusive 100-bushel wheat crop, a growing world population demands such efforts, under dry land conditions on the Canadian Prairies it is likely to remain a crop of myth and legend for most.

Calvin Daniels is Assistant Editor with Yorkton This Week.



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