Growers boost wheat yields, protein content

Intensive management | Farmers must 
exercise caution to avoid excess tillering

What if you grew 100 bushel wheat with 15 percent protein last year and the elevators gobbled it up, leaving you with empty bins before February?

“Well, we get to do a lot of snowmobiling,” said Nick Scharf, who grew 6,000 acres of soft spring wheat with brother Matthew on their farm west of Saskatoon in 2013.

They ran the combine through four random strips, with certified agronomists observing to verify the results.

The four strips ranged from 101.8 bu. per acre to 107.2 bu. per acre. Moisture ranged from 11.5 to 12.5 percent. The real kicker was the protein, which was 13 to 15 percent.

“The elevators definitely wanted our wheat as soon as they heard about our higher protein numbers,” said Scharf.

They wouldn’t have grown that size of crop if it weren’t for their agronomist, Phil Needham of Needham Ag Technologies in Calhoun, Kentucky, he added. This was their third growing season working with Needham.

Scharf said they were sceptical of Needham’s system in 2011, so they implemented only some of his recommendations. Their wheat averaged 90 bushels.

He said 2012 was a bad year and they had picked a bad variety.

“We saw that we needed a variety that would stand up to lodging, so we went with Sadash last year, and of course that worked extremely well.”

Of all the details in Needham’s system, Scharf said the timing of in-crop nitrogen application is the most important factor. It gives them the extra yield and the protein bump.

However, they have to keep in mind that going in too early with the stream bars can promote excessive tillering.

“That nitrogen timing is difficult. We spent a lot of nights in the sprayer last summer. We just finished the herbicide, then we were right back in to stream on the liquid nitrogen. It cuts into a lot of summer activities, for sure,” he said.

“We’re very diligent about the head counts. We were still a little shy on a few head counts. We’re going to bump up our seeding rate just a little next year, but Phil says being a little shy is better than too many heads.”

The Scharfs used 10 inch row spacing because it was the narrowest spacing they could find in a parallel link drill.

“If we could get narrower, we would. Phil recommended we try double seeding a couple fields in 2014, just to see how it works,” he said.

“We’ll cut the seeding rate and fertilizer in half, go in and seed on 10 inch spacing. Then we’ll go back and seed between those rows so we’ll end up with five inch row spacing. It’s just an experiment. We get a lot of signal drift up here on the GPS, so that could be a problem.”

The Scharfs, who farm a total of 13,000 acres, insisted that this level of intensive management on 6,000 acres is not too much to handle.

“We don’t mind the extra work at all. It pays off. I guess we do lose out in the summer, but there’s a lot of winter activities. It’s well worth it.”

For more information, contact Scharf at 306-237-7726 or visit

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