It was a record-setting year for the National Wheat Yield Contest, which announced its 2022 winners on Tuesday. Three contest entries binned more than 200 bushels per acre (bpa), with Rylee Reynolds of Castleford, Idaho, gleaning top yield honors with a 231.37 bpa of irrigated soft white winter wheat -- beating the previous contest high of 211.59 bpa recorded in 2019.
Overall, the Pacific Northwest showed its ability to grow wheat this year. All four 2022 Bin Buster yield winners hail from the region.
Gene Warren of Dayton, Washington, won the dryland winter wheat category with 166.12 bpa. Irrigated spring wheat honors went to Derek Friehe of Moses Lake, Washington, with 195.40 bpa, while Bruce Ruddenklau of Amity, Oregon, topped the dryland spring wheat category with 125.08 bpa.
DTN/Progressive Farmer is the official media outlet of the contest, which is sponsored by the National Wheat Foundation (NWF). Now in its seventh year, the contest is designed to encourage wheat growers to strive for high yield, quality and profit while trying new and innovative management strategies.
Wheat struggled under adverse weather conditions in many parts of the traditional growing regions in 2022. However, growers from 27 states participated in the contest this year, recording impressive yield totals overall. Total entries dipped slightly to 335 this year with nearly half being taken to harvest, reflecting the tough conditions in states such as Kansas, Texas and Oklahoma.
"More than anything, this year's contest speaks to the resiliency of wheat," said Anne Osborne, NWF's project manager for the contest. "It says something when we see dryland yields of more than 100 bushel per acre in a state like Oklahoma that was so challenged by drought," she said.
Rylee Reynolds, a 27-year-old, fourth-generation Idaho farmer, said the opportunity to learn from other growers has been the biggest benefit of participation in the contest. Networking with other participants has improved his family's farming operation.
"You hear things and think, 'That might be crazy enough for us to try,'" he said. "Or you hear about things that didn't work, and it'll save you from trying it. I guess we really just all learn together."
The contest recognizes winners in two primary competition categories, winter wheat and spring wheat, and two subcategories, dryland and irrigated. The top yield winner in each of the four categories is dubbed the "bin buster" winner. There were also 27 state winners announced.
Contestants must prove their wheat meets Grade 1 or Grade 2 standards to be ranked in the contest. Samples of the winning grain undergo further quality testing to see if the winning wheat can hit a list of quality targets. In 2022, a baking test was added to the contest's quality testing. Those results will be announced in December.
In both dryland wheat categories, prizes are also awarded to growers who raise a crop that excels when compared to others in the county where it is grown. Entries are judged based on their percentage above their five-year Olympic County average, a figure published annually by USDA. This levels the playing field and provides a means of recognizing growers who are succeeding at producing wheat in lower-yielding areas.
This year, Doug and Janelle Fitterer of New England, North Dakota, produced dryland winter wheat that yielded 115.69 bpa -- 230.17% above their county average. In Hettinger, North Dakota, Jordan Christman raised dryland spring wheat that yielded 98.01 bpa, which was 179.71% above his county average.
"We know that genetics, environment and management all need to be just right for wheat to thrive, and we are proud to see so many wheat growers continue to reach for higher and better yields while also growing wheat that customers desire," said Joe Kejr, Kansas wheat farmer and NWF chairman.MEET THE 2022 WHEAT CONTEST BIN BUSTERS:
Derek Friehe: Moses Lake, Washington
Spring Wheat Irrigated Category
Variety: AgriPro AP Venom
Derek Friehe is no stranger to the wheat contest winner circle. He topped the irrigated winter wheat category and achieved the top honors in the 2020 contest with a yield of 206.7 bpa on Limagrain Jet.
This year he comes back to take the spring wheat irrigated category with a 195.40 bpa entry from a field planted to AgriPro AP Venom. What makes this entry remarkable is that he planted the spring wheat variety in the fall.
It's a bit of a risky proposition, as spring wheat isn't always genetically designed to endure a harsh winter. But the variety Friehe chose is rated to be hardier.
"We definitely saw that because we didn't necessarily have a mild winter," Friehe said. "And there were a few times last winter we wondered if this was going to make it.
"While not a traditional practice in this area, we do think planting in the fall increases yields if the wheat survives," he said. Friehe said fall planting gives the plant a head start that he sees all season long -- again, if the crop survives the winter.
This area of east-central Washington isn't as blessed with rainfall as other parts of the state. Friehe can usually count on 8 or 9 inches of precipitation each year, which he supplements with irrigation from the Columbia Basin. The family farm also raises potatoes, peas and other specialty grains.
Come early June, the area sometimes gets heat during wheat flowering and pollination, Friehe noted. "Planting in the fall helps us dodge that heat a bit," he said. Harvest often comes just a little sooner on the fall-planted spring wheat, he said.
Intensive management, particularly for aphids, was also key this year, Friehe said. Average yields in this area typically fall between 130 to 140 bpa. "It was a pretty good weather year for cereals, but yields seemed to be all over the spectrum. They fell to near 100 bpa in areas where we couldn't stay ahead of the bugs," he said.
The wheat contest has pushed Friehe to scrutinize management. "We've had the benefit of some people looking at what we are doing and offering suggestions that have helped.
"It's not one thing we've done, but rather just continuing to fine-tune management. We've dialed down planting rates -- we were close to 100 pounds per acre, and now we're closer to 85 pounds. We've chased head scab harder with fungicides. We've looked harder at using PGRs (plant growth regulators) to make sure we're strengthening that stalk and preventing lodging," he said.
Bruce and Helle Ruddenklau: Amity, Oregon
Spring Wheat Dryland Category
Variety: WestBred WB9668
Rainfall is a real thing in western Oregon where it is not uncommon to see 40 inches fall each year. But Bruce Ruddenklau will tell you there can be too much of a good thing. The rains that soaked his area this spring continued into early summer and caused disease problems for many of the soft white winter and spring wheat varieties typically grown there.
Ruddenklau's entry in the 2022 wheat contest was a hard red spring variety bred with a disease resistance package that helped it fight back against the onslaught of Septoria and stripe rust. He harvested 125.08 bpa of WestBred 9668 to achieve bin buster honors in the spring dryland category.
"Many of the winter and spring wheats in this area had huge disease issues and required as many as three fungicide applications," said Ruddenklau. "What's really unique about this variety is we did not spray it with a fungicide at all."
Ruddenklau won the 2020 winter wheat dryland category with a 191.17 bpa entry of OSU Rosalyn. "To say this is dryland is a little misleading," he said. "Yes, we are dryland production, but with irrigation supplied by Mother Nature."
The specifics behind raising the hard red variety in his area are also unique. A couple of years ago, an Oregon soy sauce manufacturer reached out to see if a wheat variety might be grown to provide some local supply. Ruddenklau's wife, Helle, who has a background in working in wheat for Oregon State University, went to work researching the possibilities. The WestBred variety came bubbling up based on its protein content.
Ruddenklau thinks the variety holds even more potential than this year's yield indicates. "We struggled to get a good stand with the wet spring conditions. So, I think it can do better," he said.
To get the 13% to 13.5% protein level required by the soy sauce manufacturer, nitrogen levels must be a bit higher, he noted.
Grass seeds are Ruddenklau's bread-and-butter crops. This year's contest field had been in turf-type perennial ryegrass but was struggling to make a second crop in 2021. So, he planted the field to spring peas in 2021 and followed with a cover crop of oats the following fall trying to tie up the leftover nitrogen.
Moisture in the fall of 2021 kicked the oats and some weeds into overdrive. Ruddenklau used sheep to graze the oats before planting the spring wheat in 2022. Tissue and soil tests at flag leaf and heading gave him readings of nitrogen availability in the plant and soil.
The contest makes him stop and consider practices and pay attention to details, he said. "One thing we've learned is it is really important to minimize tracks in our crop," Ruddenklau noted. "We aren't on a tram line, but I would call it controlled traffic. Anytime we run the sprayer through the crop -- whether for pesticides or liquid fertilizer -- we use the same track. We can see a yield drop on the yield monitor any time we don't do this."
While grass seed remains his primary crop, any crop that is not grass offers valuable rotational opportunities, particularly in terms of weed control. "Spring wheat gives us a little extra time where we can leave a field fallow or get control of those grassy weeds before we go into the wheat crop," he said. "Controlling grassy weeds in wheat can be difficult otherwise.
"If we can get production that's pretty decent, a hard red spring specialty premium and a rotational crop, then the benefits start to look better," Ruddenklau said.
Rylee Reynolds: Castleford, Idaho
Winter Wheat Irrigated Category
Variety: AgriPro SY Ovation
Three years ago -- after receiving encouragement from their neighbor and previous Bin Buster winner, Rick Pearson -- father-and-son farming duo Gary and Rylee Reynolds began entering their irrigated soft white winter wheat in the contest. It didn't take long for the newcomers to make their presence known.
In 2020, Rylee submitted the third-highest yielding entry in the category, and last year, his winter wheat was national runner-up. This year, both father and son sent entries to the contest with yields exceeding 200 bpa -- not knowing what the final results might be.
Rylee's yield of 231.37 bpa not only topped the irrigated winter wheat category, but it also was the highest-yielding wheat ever entered in any category in the competition. Gary placed third nationally with an entry of 209.65 bpa, a yield that would've earned him Bin Buster recognition the previous two seasons.
"My dad and my grandpa, Dean Reynolds, have been the best mentors," Rylee said. "They've taught me everything I know."
The Reynolds family lives in south-central Idaho, farming about 3,000 acres in a region known as the "Magic Valley." Here, irrigation provides the "magic," transforming an otherwise parched desert landscape into a veritable agricultural cornucopia. In addition to winter wheat, the Reynoldses grow corn, both for silage and harvest, along with dry edible beans and some specialty beans. They also raise Holstein steers and alfalfa hay.
"We are in a desert, and winter wheat allows us to put our water other places when we need it because it's done irrigating around the Fourth of July," he explained. "We have gravity irrigation on about three-quarters of our acres, with the rest covered with sprinkler irrigation. Our typical rotation is corn to dry edible beans, then we'll go into wheat."
When it comes to their competition entries, Rylee said they don't do anything different than they do with the rest of their wheat acres. Planting typically takes place during the last week of September. The seed is broadcast with an air spreader. Fall fertilization usually includes 50 to 60 units of nitrogen and 30 to 40 units of potassium. Additional nitrogen is applied in the spring.
"We have very heavy soil, so we also use a lot of sulfur," Rylee said. "It allows the nutrients to break down and keeps the soil opened up a little bit."
For as long as Rylee can remember, the family has planted AgriPro's SY Ovation. The fourth-generation farmer said the variety tillers well in both the fall and spring and then puts on a head to match.
"Last year, we had some Assure and Iliad from them also, but Ovation was our winner across the board," he added.
In a region where annual precipitation averages about 7 inches, water is the ultimate determining factor when growing crops. Rylee said that both last fall and this spring, timely rains made all the difference for their winter wheat.
"Over about three weeks last fall, we got 2 inches of rain, and that just kept the wheat sending out tillers after our irrigation water had shut off," he said. "Then in the spring, we had the same thing. For about two or three days, we got a nice slow rain before our water turned back on. I'd love to say I'm a great farmer, but it was mostly the year we had."
Gene Warren: Dayton, Washington
Winter Wheat Dryland Category
Variety: Limagrain LCS Shine
In 2021, Gene Warren harvested what he describes as the worst winter wheat crop of his farming career. In a typical year, his 5,000-acre operation in southeast Washington might receive anywhere from 17 to 24 inches of annual precipitation. But last year, Mother Nature simply didn't turn on the tap.
"We thought we had some good crops when we started off in the spring, but we didn't have our usual rain," Warren said. "We had 13 inches for the whole year."
How quickly a farmer's fortunes can change.
In 2022, Warren harvested what he describes as his best winter wheat crop since he started farming in 1977. Not only was it a personal best, but at 166.12 bpa, it was also the best dryland winter wheat entered in the 2022 National Wheat Yield Contest.
"Mother Nature was how we won," he said. "We ended up getting twice our average moisture in April, May and June. Instead of 2 inches, we got 4 inches each of those months. We went from 13 inches total last year to 26 inches this year."
This was Warren's third year entering the contest and first time to win at either the state or the national level. He credits his son, Garrett, a partner in the family operation and a previous winner in the state contest, with encouraging him to enter.
In addition to wheat, Warren and his wife, Mary, also raise dried peas and garbanzo beans in rotation. They planted Limagrain's LCS Shine, a soft white winter wheat variety, on 15-inch spacing using a brand-new Horsch air drill. The result was excellent germination, he said.
"Variety selection is important," Warren said. "We chose Shine because of its high yield potential in cereal variety plots and its good disease resistance."
He added that since Garrett joined the operation seven years ago, they've increased their use of precision technology and prescription farming. Fertilizer application, for instance, is now made at five different rates across a field and determined by a combination of yield mapping and satellite imagery.
In the spring, the Warrens made one pass of fungicide and herbicide, along with a foliar fertilizer application. "It has about 2 or 3 pounds of nitrogen, but it's got a lot of micronutrients," he said. "It's mostly for development and trying to get those big heads and so forth."
Overall, the Warrens averaged 117 bpa across all their wheat acres in 2022, with a lot of fields reaching yields into the 130s and 140s. He said his county average is typically in 70s or 80s.
"When you're dryland, it's all about who gets the benefit of Mother Nature," he added.
2022 NATIONAL WINNERS
WINTER WHEAT DRYLAND CATEGORY WINNERS:
First Place: Derek Berger
Variety: OSU Rosalyn
Yield: 164.10 bpa
Second Place: Kurt Druffel
Variety: WestBred Keldin
Yield: 151.45 bpa
Third Place: Darren Grumbine
Variety: Pioneer 25R74
Yield: 143.20 bpa
Fourth Place: Erik Olson
Bonners Ferry, Idaho
Variety: The McGregor Co. M-Press
Yield: 138.67 bpa
Fifth Place: Nick Suwyn
Variety: AgriPro Branson
Yield: 138.06 bpa
WINTER WHEAT DRYLAND ABOVE COUNTY AVERAGE WINNERS:
First Place: Doug & Janelle Fitterer
New England, North Dakota
Variety: WestBred WB4309
Yield: 115.69 bpa, 230.17% above Adams County's average
Second Place: Zach Balahtsis
Variety: Limagrain LCS Atomic AX
Yield: 110.44 bpa, 228.59% above Grant County's average
Third Place: Dylan Lindsey
Variety: Limagrain LCS Julep
Yield: 94.11 bpa, 201.25% above Kay County's average
Fourth Place: Chris Carlson
Mott, North Dakota
Variety: WestBred Keldin
Yield: 107.71 bpa, 149.73% above Hettinger County's average
Fifth Place: Brett Oelke
Variety: WestBred WB-Grainfield
Yield: 106.34 bpa, 147.88% above Sheridan County's average
WINTER WHEAT IRRIGATED CATEGORY:
First Place: Joel Zwainz
Variety: Limagrain LCS Shine
Yield: 214.26 bpa
Second Place: Gary Reynolds
Variety: AgriPro SY Ovation
Yield: 209.65 bpa
SPRING WHEAT DRYLAND CATEGORY:
First Place: Trevor Stout
Variety: WestBred WB9303
Yield: 116.40 bpa
Second Place: Matthew Krueger
East Grand Forks, Minnesota
Variety: WestBred WB9590
Yield: 113.51 bpa
Third Place: Jon Wert
New England, North Dakota
Variety: University of Minnesota MN-Torgy
Yield: 108.05 bpa
SPRING WHEAT DRYLAND ABOVE COUNTY AVERAGE WINNERS:
First Place: Jordan Christman
Hettinger, North Dakota
Variety: WestBred WB9606
Yield: 98.01 bpa, 179.71% above Adams County's average
Second Place: Austin Kautzman
Mott, North Dakota
Variety: WestBred WB9719
Yield: 94.96 bpa, 172.56% above Grant County's average
Third Place: Greg Messer
Richardton, North Dakota
Variety: WestBred WB9590
Yield: 104.99 bpa, 150.93% above Stark County's average
SPRING WHEAT IRRIGATED CATEGORY:
First Place: Dallin Wilcox
Variety: Westbred WB7589
Yield: 160.63 bpa
Second Place: Wes Vandyke
Variety: Washington State University Tekoa
Yield: 93.45 bpa
Read more about how the contest works here: https://www.dtnpf.com/…
For more information on past winners, rules and to register for the next contest go to: https://yieldcontest.wheatfoundation.org/…
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