Digging In

National Wheat Yield Contest helping to build understanding of wheat’s impact on soil health

National Wheat Yield Contest helping to build understanding of wheat’s impact on soil health

By Steve Joehl, National Wheat Foundation on Thursday, 27 February, 2020

The National Wheat Foundation’s National Wheat Yield Contest just completed its fourth year, receiving nearly 400 entries. NWF’s Yield Contest is focused on the productivity and profitability of wheat for U.S. wheat growers. Its primary goal is to improve the overall quality and marketability of the U.S. crop.

The Contest is gathering management data points and working with wheat extension agronomists at several public ag universities. Eventually, there will be enough data points and knowledge gained to help agronomists develop an improved best management practice for wheat production specific to region and class of wheat.

Wheat is an attractive crop for growers to consider and understand because of its potential from a soil health perspective. How does wheat improve soil health that will benefit other crops in the growers’ crop rotation? Some of wheat’s uniqueness includes the following: 

  1. Roughly 75% of U.S. wheat acres are grown in dry regions. The crop has proven to be adaptable to minimum till or no-till.
  2. Wheat responds well to “just-in-time” crop inputs, allowing “in-crop” fertility which reduces runoff, maximizes uptake and allows better efficiency of inputs and management of costs.
  3. Winter wheat serves as a great cover crop to keep nutrients in the field and may improve soil health by increasing soil organic matter.
  4. Spring wheat is a good rotation crop, allowing farmers to break up disease cycles and control weeds by rotating chemistries.

Wheat is a food crop, which makes grain quality of utmost importance. With half of all wheat grown in the U.S. serving the export market, wheat farmers must make quality a top priority to maintain demand and compete with other low-cost, wheat producing countries. The impact of soil health on wheat quality needs to be understood to help growers preserve its demand both in the U.S. and abroad.

The National Wheat Yield Contest encourages growers to think differently about wheat inputs and management practices. It stimulates out-of-the-box thinking aimed at improving yields while maintaining quality.

Understanding the impact of these practices on soil health is just as important as it is on yield and, ultimately, could improve the growers’ total crop rotation productivity as well.