ROCKVILLE, Md. (DTN) -- He can't see it yet, but there could be a winner lurking under Travis Freeburg's snow-covered winter wheat fields.
Freeburg, who farms wheat in both eastern Wyoming and western Nebraska, grew the best dryland winter wheat field in last year's National Wheat Yield Contest. He expects to enter again this year, once the remnants of last week's historic "bomb cyclone" melt off his fields and his wheat starts to green up in the weeks to come.
"When wheat starts breaking dormancy, we'll head out and see what looks best," he said. "But right now we have a lot of snow -- 25-to-30-foot drifts in some places."
Fortunately, Freeburg and all other winter wheat growers have until May 15 to enter their wheat fields in the contest, which is sponsored by the National Wheat Foundation. Spring wheat growers have until Aug. 1. Growers who register their fields before April 1 for winter wheat and June 15 for spring wheat pay a lower entry fee, however.
The wheat contest has documented impressive yields since its debut in 2015. Last year, Phillip Gross of Warden, Washington, broke the 200-bushel-per-acre yield barrier, with his winning irrigated winter wheat yield of 202.53 bpa. Several other growers logged yields in the 190s.
But the contest is taking pains to recognize and reward winners for growing quality wheat, as well. For the second year in a row, wheat contest applicants will receive a sample kit to mail some of their harvested grain to contest organizers for analysis at the Wheat Marketing Center in Portland, Oregon. Wheat samples must be Grade 1 or 2 to qualify for the contest's national rankings, said Steve Joehl, director of research and technology at the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG) and director of the contest for the NWF.
Samples will be tested for other quality measurements such as protein, 1,000-kernel weight and falling number. These test results will be aggregated in a growing database that houses growers' fertilizer and nutrient inputs.
"We want to be able to tie fertility programs with other quality parameters," Joehl explained. "In particular, we're trying to correlate the amount and timing of nitrogen to protein levels." The goal is to help growers learn how to raise the high-yielding crops they need to be profitable, while maximizing the wheat quality needed to compete in both the domestic and export market, Joehl said.
Wheat contest participation has grown steadily in its three years, more than doubling to 318 entries in 2018, up from 128 in 2015. Last year, most applications come from the Great Plains; North Dakota and Kansas were the biggest pools of applicants.
But, this year, the wheat contest also boasts a new set of rankings. The changes are designed to represent wheat acreage and production in the U.S. more accurately, as well as boost applications from high-yielding wheat regions in the country, such as Washington, Michigan, Illinois and Kentucky, Joehl said.
The four categories of wheat -- irrigated and dryland winter wheat and irrigated and dryland spring wheat -- will each have two tiers of winners. One tier will continue to rank growers by the percentage they yield above their five-year USDA county average, which lets lower-yielding dryland wheat regions shine. The other tier will rank growers in that category by raw yield numbers alone, which will give high-yielding regions a better chance to compete as well, Joehl noted. The 2019 contest will continue to recognize the overall highest yield winner, too.
Each wheat category will also have a different number of rankings that better reflect their actual wheat acreage. For example, dryland winter wheat will have winners from first place to fifth place in both tiers, whereas irrigated spring wheat will only have a single first-place winner in either tier.
See more details on the wheat contest rules and regulations here: https://yieldcontest.wheatfoundation.org/…
See DTN's reporting on the winners of the 2018 National Wheat Yield Contest here: https://www.dtnpf.com/…
Emily Unglesbee can be reached at Emily.firstname.lastname@example.org
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