Dick Judah has watched wheat's fortunes roll around more than once in his farming career. This year, the crop literally shined for the Hillsboro, Oregon, farmer. The variety he planted, LCS Shine, hit 173.77 bushel per acre (bpa), enough to win him the top honors in the dryland winter wheat category.
The most competitive of the National Wheat Yield Contest classes with 284 entries, the top six entries in the category ranged from 173.77 bpa to 157.67 bpa and represented five different states. 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.
Judah farms and works for Berger International, a sixth-generation family business located in the northwestern corner of the Willamette Valley of Oregon. The company specializes in growing grasses, such as fescue and clovers, for seed. Their contest entries show they know about growing wheat, too.
Following close behind Judah in the yield contest this year was Derek Berger with a 171.58 bpa entry -- also LCS Shine from Limagrain Cereal Seeds. The two entries grew in fields about 15 miles apart.
"Between grass seed becoming popular as a crop, the lower price of wheat and the necessity to work the land with wheat, we got away from growing wheat for a while," said Judah, who has worked with the Berger family for 53 years. "But when the wheat price came back, we started raising it again, and it's done well here. It's surprising how much yields have increased over the years."
This is a diverse agricultural region, producing more than 170 different crops including grain, hay, grass seed and specialty seeds of all kinds. Fresh and processed vegetables, tree fruits, berries, hazelnuts, wine grapes, mint and hops are grown in the valley, too, along with nursery products, Christmas trees, dairy and beef cows, as well as poultry.
The winning entry followed turf-type tall fescue in the rotation. In past years, the farm drilled wheat in 6-inch rows, but this entry was planted by a spreader and then lightly disked in. "We've had pretty good luck seeding that way the last few years, and it's a lot faster," Judah told DTN. Planting takes place here from early-to-late October at seeding rates that average between 100 to 130 pounds per acre, he added.
The winning entry was treated with CruiserMaxx Vibrance Cereal seed treatment to protect young seedlings and roots from a range of seedborne and soilborne diseases and early season insects. Other inputs included a total of 135 pounds of nitrogen, 30 lbs. of potassium, 10 lbs. of phosphorus and 15 lbs. of sulfur.
Judah attributes the yield bounty to good soils that are well drained. Low spots tend to be tiled to help manage surface water.
"Management is important -- we have a good team making decisions," he said. "And rotation helps. We see good wheat yields as they come out of grass and/or clovers.
"I think wheat is also good for the grass, too. It adds organic matter back into the soil and loosens the soil up," Judah added. He said land often remains in grass seed production for several years. He can't remember the last year this winning field was in wheat. "It's been a long time," he said.
Farmers in other parts of the country might drool at the thought of the 45 to 48 inches of annual rainfall experienced in this area. The winning field started off dry in the fall. "Once it started raining, the wheat this year really took off. We had plenty of moisture during the growing season."
He ranks geese, rodents, and disease (depending on the winter) as challenges faced in this wheat-growing region. Too wet and too warm can bring on leaf diseases. This year conditions required two fungicide applications, and when head blight threatened, a third application was applied.
There is no such thing as contest fields here, Berger said. "We treat everything the same. This year's wet spring resulted in some inconsistent yields in lower areas of the field, but the areas that were good were very, very good," Berger added.
Planting a grass into a grass can be problematic, but Judah said the key to avoiding problems is getting a good kill on the fescue. Glyphosate is still the go-to for that job. A different site-of-action herbicide application is used immediately after planting, followed by a phenoxy (such as 2,4-D) in the spring.
LCS Shine is a soft white wheat variety that has proven itself here since being released in 2018. It was 16th in the 2023 Oregon State University (OSU) North Willamette (high rainfall) wheat yield trials but holds the leading position when viewed as a four-year yield average (2019 to 2023) at 150 bpa.
In those 2023 OSU trials, Shine stood at 31.4 inches, had a test weight of 63.5 and 8.7% protein. It earned a Most Desirable (MD) quality rating as assigned by USDA's Western Wheat Quality Laboratory. MD varieties generally have high test weights, appropriate protein content (kernel properties) and excellent milling and end-use properties.
National wheat yield contest winners submit samples to be tested for quality and baking considerations. Those assessments will be released later this year or early 2024.
Winning the contest takes Judah back to a time when wheat was popular in this region. "Years and years ago, when I worked for Derek's (Berger) grandfather, we raised a lot of wheat, and groups would bring people from all over the world to look at it," he recalled. "It was always fun, and we learned a lot.
"Lots of things have changed over the years, but we keep working at it and trying to improve. Mother Nature has a lot to say about how it turns out," he said.
Find the OSU 2023 variety trials and tests in northern Willamette Valley here:
**LIST OF WINNERS
Winners in the 2023 National Wheat Yield Contest Winter Wheat - Dryland Category include:
-- Bin Buster: Dick Judah
Variety: Limagrain LCS Shine
Yield: 173.77 bpa
-- First Place: Derek Berger
Variety: Limagrain LCS Shine
Yield: 171.58 bpa
-- Second Place: Randy Eschenburg
Variety: Michigan State Whitetail
Yield: 169.75 bpa
-- Third Place: Kent Edwards
Variety: Pioneer 25R29
Yield: 169.4 bpa
-- Fourth Place: Guy Gochenour
Variety: Mid-Atlantic Seeds 139
Yield: 163.31 bpa
-- Fifth Place: William Willard
Variety: Pioneer 25R64
Yield: 157.67 bpa
Meet the Spring Wheat - Dryland Category winner here: https://www.dtnpf.com/….
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/….
Pamela Smith can be reached at Pamela.email@example.com
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