SYNGENTA ISSUES RECOMMENDATIONS ON INTENSIVELY-MANAGED WHEAT
Sep. 21, 2012
Source: Syngenta news release
The agricultural industry is regularly evolving, and at the forefront of change are those who strive to help wheat growers realize the full potential of their yields and returns. Proponents of intensive wheat management stress the benefits - uniformity, quality and maximum yield - crops could reap through a comprehensive, hands-on program that implements proper practices at opportune times. Syngenta remains committed to helping farmers grow more wheat by providing high-quality varieties, seed treatment and crop protection solutions. And, when coupled with an intensive wheat management program, growers could increase their return on investment by achieving better-quality, higher-yielding crops.
The difference between obtaining below-average and bin-busting yields became evident through the adoption of intensive wheat management systems more than 20 years ago. Expert agronomist Phil Needham helped introduce a European crop management system to Kentucky and surrounding states in the late 1980s, sparking the onset of a large-scale transition to intensive wheat management practices. Since then, yields and profits have increased significantly; for example, the Kentucky state yield has increased from the 33-35 bu/A range to around 70 bu/A today. Growing improved varieties in conjunction with an intensive management program increases net profit by at least $20 per acre on at least 100,000 acres of wheat annually1.
Syngenta is in the unique position to be able to offer growers top-performing seed and product solutions to help intensively manage their wheat from seed to harvest. We consulted with top experts in the industry to showcase the intricacies of intensive wheat management throughout the season.
Step 1: Variety selection and seed treatment
According to Needham, an intensive wheat management program is most effective when growers begin with their end goal in mind. Once committed to the program, growers must assess the yield potential of each field to determine the value of inputs that will eliminate the "weak links" - like weeds, insects and diseases - and capitalize on full yield potential and crop quality. This should then be followed by a strong focus on variety and quality seed treatment selection to help ensure the crop gets off to a healthy start. To address a variety of pest and weather-related challenges, Syngenta offers high-quality, locally-bred and grown AgriPro® brand certified wheat seed. In addition to selecting top-performing, certified seed varieties and quality seed treatments, planting date and depth, as well as variable seeding rates, are essential to maximizing yield potential. A rule of thumb is to seed more in areas with higher yield potential and less in areas with lower yield potential, as compared to seeding a constant amount across all areas.
Many winter wheat production decisions are made in early fall, well before it's time to hook up the planting drill. "Growers need to choose certified seed varieties that are adapted to their particular wheat-growing area," said Donn Thill, professor of weed science, University of Idaho. "Selecting certified seed is important because growers know what they're getting as far as genetic purity, germination rate of the seed and the weed seed content that may be present, among other features. These are aspects that are regulated by law, so growers know they're buying a quality product as compared to saved or bin-run seed."
Advocates of an intensive wheat management program also emphasize the value of seed treatments to combat prevalent soilborne or seedborne diseases. Syngenta recently introduced new Vibrance™ branded seed treatment fungicides to enhance disease protection and help boost RootingPower in cereal crops. Vibrance brands deliver enhanced, longer-lasting disease protection and are available in limited supply for 2012 winter wheat planting.
"Seed treatments promote early germination, healthy root development, early crop vigor and good plant establishment," said Josh Messer, agronomist, Plains Grain and Agronomy. "In western North Dakota, for example, crown rot is common. Here in the Northern Plains, we recommend CruiserMaxx® Cereals seed treatment insecticide/fungicide to help protect against crown rot and other soilborne diseases and insects."
Step 2: Fertility and nutrient management
A major variable in wheat production from region to region is fertility and nutrient management - a factor that could be the difference between healthy and nutrient-deficient plants. According to Messer, a quality intensive wheat management program begins with good plant nutrition. Soil tests can help determine nutrient and fertilizer needs, as well as set yield goals. But it doesn't end there. "Throughout the season, we also encourage between four and five tissue tests to determine nutrient levels," Messer said.
Many wheat experts agree that a split and accurate nitrogen application is also critical to producing the most uniform and consistent stands. "The idea is to apply nutrients based on soil test results that indicate projected yield," Thill added. "And because different parts of the field have variable yield potential, it would make sense to vary the rates of fertilizer across the field - applying more to areas with higher yield potential and the opposite for areas with lower yield potential."
Messer and his team encourage variable rate fertility, too, which is how growers could get their average yields and net profit to increase. Being strategic with fertility placement is important, but as with planting, timing is critical, too.
At times, an over-application of nitrogen could induce crop lodging. To help prevent lodging due to adverse weather conditions or excessive plant growth due to increased nitrogen use, Syngenta developed new Palisade® 2EC plant growth regulator, which shortens the internodes and strengthens the stems of the wheat crop. Palisade 2EC offers tank-mix flexibility with most fertilizers, herbicides, fungicides or insecticides for a more convenient, one-pass option that could occur anytime between Feekes Growth Stages (FGS) 5 and 8.
Syngenta Agronomic Service Representative Sarah Gehant, Upton, Ky., says that tillering could also help determine fertility application time. "With winter wheat, for example, it's important to know how many tillers are present when coming out of dormancy so you can adjust your split nitrogen applications to promote tillering or simply support the tillers you have," Gehant explained. "The fewer tillers observed in dormancy, the greater the [nitrogen] rate early in the season, whereas the more tiller observed in dormancy, the less nitrogen is needed at the early application timing." The second application is then applied after tillering to promote yield and test weight.
Step 3: Scout, monitor, treat as necessary
Scouting for yield-robbing weeds, diseases and insects is an irreplaceable component of an intensive wheat management program. Growers in the PNW and Northern Plains, in particular, tend to see heavy grass weed pressure at times. If this is observed, an application of Axial® XL herbicide in the fall or early spring could help as it provides industry-leading control of most competitive grass weeds and offers tank-mix flexibility. "We almost always recommend a fungicide at herbicide timing for foliar disease protection," Messer said. "We recommend Tilt® fungicide because we see more crop response compared to other fungicides," he added.
If insect pressure is observed in scouting, Messer suggests growers use a good residual insecticide, such as Warrior II with Zeon Technology® insecticide. This would also be a good time to follow up with a tissue test for micronutrient assessment, and also keep a close eye on the crop to determine if another insecticide or fungicide application may be needed. "You'll almost always gain a benefit from an insecticide or fungicide application, regardless of disease or insect pressure, because the crop will be equipped to withstand stressful environments due to better overall health," Messer explained.
Once the flag leaf emerges, Messer recommends using a stronger fungicide to control disease. "A fungicide like Quilt Xcel® provides better disease protection and more residual control," Messer said. "Before the second fungicide application, we evaluate if more micronutrients are needed, and we could tank mix them based on the results." If aphids or other insect pests are observed at heading, Messer suggests growers protect their wheat with another Warrior II with Zeon Technology application, and to simultaneously treat for Fusarium head blight as necessary. After heading applications are made, growers should be able to wait for harvest with no further applications while monitoring their crops.
Step 4: Residue management and crop rotations
Intensive wheat management throughout the growing season will require more residue management, as well. To aid with residue breakdown and help build organic matter faster, Messer suggests using a harrow to break up and spread the residue more evenly. "Growers shouldn't remove all the standing stubble, as that's needed for snow catch and for saving moisture for the next crop," Messer explained.
Additionally, one of the best practices in an intensive wheat management program is a good crop rotation, which varies by region. "Wheat will especially benefit from following a broadleaf crop, like canola, soybean or other legumes - we've found the crop does very well afterward," Messer explained.
Growers in the PNW typically opt for a two-year or three-year crop rotation. "A two-year rotation consists of winter wheat followed by a spring-planted broad-leaf crop, such as peas, lentils, chickpeas or canola, whereas a three-year rotation will include both of those crops in addition to a spring cereal in between and then back to winter wheat," Thill explained.
One advantage of using a legume in rotation with wheat, according to Thill, is that they naturally add nitrogen to the soil, but any well-planned crop rotation will be beneficial. It's also important for growers to be aware of residue management, depending on where they are in a crop rotation cycle, so they could successfully seed through the residue of the previous crop.
An intensive wheat management program can produce great value for diligent, committed farmers who have taken the proper steps to gauge their yield potential. If implementing this type of program, remember to do the following: select appropriate varieties of certified seed; improve stand and uniformity with a seed treatment; ensure vigilant scouting and timely crop protection product applications; keep a close eye on fertility; and keep fields clean. There is as much opportunity to increase profits with wheat as there is with other crops - the rest is up to you.