JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (DTN) -- As the old saying goes, "You have to be in it to win it." In 2022, Brad Disrud simply wasn't in it.
"I should have entered the contest last year," the farmer from Rolla, North Dakota, reluctantly admitted. "I don't know if I would have won, but we had some really good wheat that I think would've been in the running. So, I kind of learned from that. We entered this year and did a little bit extra on this one plot. It made all the difference."
Despite being a first-time participant in the National Wheat Yield Contest, Disrud used his two decades of farming experience to ascend to the top of the dryland spring wheat category in 2023. His winning yield of 129.98 bushels per acre (bpa) not only topped this year's entries, but it also was nearly 5 bpa more than last year's winner of the same category.
Now in its eighth year, the yield contest organized by the National Wheat Foundation (NWF) is designed to encourage wheat growers to strive for high yield, quality and profit while trying new and innovative management strategies. DTN/Progressive Farmer is the official media outlet of the competition.
Disrud farms about 6,000 acres in north-central North Dakota, just a few miles from the Canadian border in an ecoregion known as the Northern Black Prairie. His crop rotation includes canola, soybeans, sunflowers and spring wheat.
SHORT GROWING SEASON
With the shortest growing season of any region in North Dakota, spring often arrives late -- and winter can arrive early. Disrud said that in a typical year, he hopes to begin planting by May 10 as the first snow has been known to fall before trick-or-treaters have a chance to don their costumes. This year, a snowstorm near the end of April delayed wheat planting.
"We got that late snow, and it was just cold and crummy. It pushed us back some," said the 40-year-old. "We planted our first fields May 18, but we weren't able to really hit it hard until May 21, which is when the field with my contest entry was planted."
Disrud planted WestBred WB9590, a hard red spring wheat variety the seed company describes as having broad adaptability with excellent yield potential, protein content and standability. The North Dakota farmer first planted the variety four years ago as part of an on-farm test plot.
"When we got the combine in it that year, I couldn't believe it, actually. It just blew the doors off everything," he said. "So, the next year, I put out about 400 acres of it, and it was just ridiculous how good it did compared to the other variety I had. Now, the last two years, all I've seeded is WestBred WB9590."
Using a John Deere 1890 no-till air drill, Disrud planted the field at a rate of 1.5 million seeds per acre on 7.5-inch row spacing. The seed was coated with Raxil Pro Shield, an all-in-one insecticide and fungicide seed treatment.
"At planting, we've also been doing quite a bit with starter fertilizers, mixing sulfur with 11-52-0 MAP," Disrud said. "I think that's where we're catching a lot of yield bump by getting that crop out of the ground with ample nutrition right from the start."
Post-emergence weed control was achieved with a pass containing Huskie Complete and MCP Amine. Fungicides, including Propi-Star EC and Prosaro PRO 400 SC, were applied at various intervals during the growing season.
"We made three fungicide passes on the plot this year," Disrud said. "We'll make an application at the flag leaf stage, which a lot of people don't do, but I've noticed that it's made a lot of bushels doing that. We just try to keep everything as healthy as you can, and hopefully, Mother Nature comes through for you."
Despite the late-April snow that delayed planting, moisture was hard to come by during the early portion of the growing season. "By the time we finished seeding, we were crying for rain," Disrud noted.
Throughout June and July, the area dealt with abnormally dry to moderate drought conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, and conditions only worsened in August. In the absence of widespread rain events, crop survival was dependent on spotty hit-or-miss showers.
"One day, we were checking on a half section of wheat, and it started to rain," Disrud recalled. "I started on the east side driving a UTV through the field, and it got so muddy that I had to get back on the road. By the time we got to the west side of the field, dust was flying behind us. It didn't get a drop, and that's the way the season went."
The field where Disrud harvested his winning yield was one that the spotty showers hit more often than they missed. He said that with every rain that came through, it received some precipitation.
"It really never struggled all season. It just kept catching the rains," he said. "It had all the nitrogen it needed, so it flourished."
As an average across his wheat acres, Disrud said that he's been achieving yields in the 80 bpa to 90 bpa range with WestBred WB9590. He said he's been increasing his nitrogen application rates, pushing to see what the variety can achieve.
"It has good standability in the field, so it can handle a lot more nitrogen," Disrud said. "It doesn't lodge. If you can put that kind of nitrogen to it and keep it standing, it'll fill out nice and get big heads and heavy kernels. It has that yield potential."
HIGH-QUALITY GRAIN EMPHASIZED
Though contest winners are selected based on yield, emphasis is also placed on the production of high-quality grain. The 24 national winners are required to submit an 8-pound sample that will be analyzed for milling and baking qualities. A panel of experts will rank the wheat samples by quality, and the winners will be announced in mid-January.
Disrud noted that while sometimes quality -- especially protein content -- can suffer when yields increase, that hasn't been his experience with this WestBred variety. "Protein hasn't been a struggle," Disrud said. "It's always up close to 14% to 14.5%."
As a national winner in the yield contest, Disrud earned a trip to the 2024 Commodity Classic where he'll be recognized at NWF Winner's Reception. He said he's looking forward to meeting other winners and gleaning what he can from their production experiences. Overall, the average yield of the national winners in the dryland spring wheat category was 124.52 bpa.
"Everybody has different ideas on how things work, so it'll be nice to find out what others are doing to push bigger yields," he said. "When you know your dirt and how to manage your fertility, what can you do to take it to the next level?"LIST OF WINNERS
Winners in the 2023 National Wheat Yield Contest Dryland Spring Wheat Category include:
Bin Buster: Brad Disrud
Rolla, North Dakota
Variety: WestBred WB9590
Yield: 129.98 bpa
First Place: John Wesolowski
Variety: WestBred WB9590
Yield: 126.09 bpa
Second Place: Lance Olson
Mott, North Dakota
Variety: WestBred WB9606
Yield: 122.09 bpa
Third Place: Trevor Stout
Variety: WestBred WB9623
Yield: 119.91 bpa
More on this year's yield contest can be found here: https://www.dtnpf.com/….
For more information on the yield contest and to view past winners, go to: https://yieldcontest.wheatfoundation.org/….
Jason Jenkins can be reached at email@example.com
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