The Balancing Act: Wheat Yields & Protein Levels

The Balancing Act: Yields and Protein Levels

A perfect balance between yield and protein levels is key when it comes to marketing your wheat. When yields are high, protein is low. When protein is high, wheat yields tend to be low. So how do you achieve the ultimate equilibrium to maximize profits?

To find that tipping point, we’ll take a closer look at:

  • Advice from the South Dakota Wheat Growers.
  • Research from the University of Maine and University of Illinois.
  • Steps you can take to increase both wheat yields and protein levels.

A select group of wheat growers in the U.S. have likely discovered a tried-and-true recipe for success under consistently tough weather conditions. However, finding a strategy that raises record-yielding wheat along with superb quality, that’s another story - story that can boost profits beyond what was thought possible years before.

Maximize Profit Potential through Strong Yields

“It’s always in every grower’s best interest to maximize yields during the growing season.  Millers will push that they value a consistent supply of high quality grade wheat, but a grower’s economic threshold to grow profits is most often in the yields that they produce and where they will find the most dollars,” says Brad Ruden, director of agronomy tech services for South Dakota Wheat Growers. “Though yields may hold the highest profit potential, growers who don’t focus on quality can see some very, very high discounts on grain at the elevators.”

To work on maximizing yields, Ruden suggests that you start with a strong nutrient program along with an effective weed management solution. Nutrient programs in the plains and Midwest regions typically include  nitrogen applications, 1.1 to 1.5 lbs/bu yield goal, phosphorus, and can also include various rates of sulfur and potassium depending on particular soil situations. On the other hand, Ruden warns that too much fertilizer, especially nitrogen, can result in severe lodging where wheat can end up lying on the ground and cannot be harvested.

To promote high yields beyond basic nutrient applications, growers should focus attention on yield-robbing weeds that compete with plants throughout the growing season. Unique products that offer broad spectrum weed protection such as Huskie® Complete herbicide provides an all-in-one solution that targets both broadleaf weeds and grasses in a single application. The wide window of application makes it a flexible solution for controlling mid-season weed escapes or weather-related timing issues.

Improved Quality = Improved Profits

Wheat quality is based on a multitude of factors. According to the University of Maine, grain quality is determined by the following factors: mycotoxin deoxynivalenol (DON), test weight, enzymatic activity, protein levels and dough performance. All of which, are impacted by various growing circumstances, chemical applications and seed varieties used.

When it comes to quality, University of Illinois Research Extension Agronomist and Crop Sciences and Professor Emerson Nafziger agrees that growers who don’t make a conscious effort to maintain grain quality can run into some real issues when taking their grain to market, especially when Fusarium head blight (FHB) – commonly known as scab or head scab – has been widespread.

“Growers who ignore disease management run a risk, given that some plant diseases can negatively affect both grain quality and yields,” says Nafziger.  “Fusarium head blight can seriously limit yield and grain quality for wheat if the weather conditions are conducive for disease development and no control measures are taken.”

When the weather is right for the development of FHB on wheat, growers should be prepared to make a fungicide application on their crop to minimize risk of losing both yield and damaging grain quality, explained Nafziger.

“It’s important that growers apply their fungicide precisely time during flowering to maximize protection against head scab,” says Nafziger. “ You can limit the infection if the fungicide is applied in a timely fashion, but if it’s applied too early that can increase the amount of  infected grain that stays in the head, and that can actually increase DON levels in the harvested grain. But if the fungicide is applied too late, the infection will have already taken place.

Best practices for controlling head scab and other potentially threatening diseases generally provide broad spectrum disease and fungus control.  Fungicides such as Prosaro® stop the penetration of the fungus into the plant and the spread of infection within the plant. Prosaro has demonstrated proven protection that earned very good and excellent ratings in Kansas State University’s 2014 Foliar Fungicide Efficacy trials on other common wheat diseases including Septoria leaf blotch, tan spot, leaf rust, stripe rust and stem rust.

Trait Selection Key Ingredient in Success

Nafziger believes that genetic resistance to FHB will provide the most cost-effective control, but many current varieties do not yet have a high level of resistance or tolerance. “Technology can help growers resist scab infections and protect yield and quality when they don’t have the opportunity to spray,” he says. “This offersa way to help maintain grain quality, but until resistance levels of varieties are higher than they are today, combining genetics and fungicide applications still offers the best control of head scab.”

Growers interested in researching the latest wheat traits can look to The University of Illinois’ recent seed trials where a number of seed technologies were tested and graded based on their level of scab resistance.

Though yield may continue to be front-of-mind for most wheat growers, both Nafziger and Ruden noted that unpredictable weather patterns will continue to impact grain quality, and that makes finding a tried-and-true formula for success elusive. However, growers looking to truly maximize year-end profits in wheat crops will operate well-rounded plans that focus attention on both yields and quality.

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