Tuesday, 4 February 2014
How to grow a world record crop of wheat
I had the pleasure of spending some time with the current world wheat record yield holder Mike Solari. Mike emigrated to Gore in southland in 1974, having grown up on his family farm only a few miles from by home. Mike set the record of 15.636T/ha off 8.869ha in 2010 with a crop of Einstein milling wheat, this is an incredible yield and obviously I was keen to find out how he did it.
Mike in a fabulous crop of wheat, but not expected to be a record breaker
What are the key ingredients to grow a record crop? Mike attributes the yield to four key factors, rotation, climate, soil and geographical location. The rotation is based around 2 years of grazed pasture with a high clover content and no grass crops removed followed by 7 years of arable crops. The arable rotation is wheat, spring barley, peas, wheat, oilseed rape, wheat and winter barley, the second crop of wheat in year 4 is the biggest crop. After 2 years of grass and clover up to 140 kg/ha of nitrogen can be in the soil this along with the organic matter gives the wheat crop an excellent start. Mike does the planting himself, and enjoys ploughing the most, to establish the wheat he will plough in the morning and then plant the wheat in the afternoon with a power harrow combination to make sure it gets established well and the ploughing doesn't get rained on.
After the spring barley is harvested the straw is chopped and ploughed in over the winter ready for a crop of peas next spring. The peas fix some nitrogen and leave 80kgN/ha for the following wheat crop. It is this crop which is pushed to get the biggest yields and is set up with a target yield of 15T/ha. It is treated differently to the other wheat crops right from the start. The land will be ploughed, subsoiled, base fertilizer applied, subsoiled again and finally drilled with a combination, but never before the 15th April at a seedrate of 80kg/ha. 380kgN/ha will be applied in five splits with the last before ear emergence, giving a total of 460 kgN/ha including the residual nitrogen, not sure how we would get around the NVZ rules in the UK with these levels. Amazingly though the wheat wasn't lodging and had had a two stage growth regulator program involving chlormequat and moddus. Moddus is popular in NZ and used at much higher rates. The crop will be treated five times with fungicides based on chlorothanonil, triazoles and strobbilurins, because the climate increases the disease risk and the growing season is very long. The climate in NZ is unique as there is nowhere else in the world at the same degree of latitude, it is equivalent to northern Spain in the northern hemisphere, that has a similar long cool growing period with high solar radiation at the critical grain filling stage. Also because NZ is an island a long way from another landmass it has a maritime climate. Unlike the
UK where the weather is affected by the close proximity to mainland Europe. Mike's soils are quite heavy with good water holding capacity and therefore no irrigation is used. Mike likes the variety Einstein as it has an erect flagleaf and is good at light interception
The Valley where Mike farms
Winter Barley ready to cut.
Not the most modern Combine!
So could we grow a record breaking crop in the UK? I think we could but it would be have to be a perfect year, with the optimal weather and be able to apply enough nitrogen to support such a big crop. Simply really!!
I look forward to meeting Mike again in the future and had a very enlightening time visiting.