2021 National Wheat Yield Contest Winners

2021 Winners Overcome Obstacles

Emily Unglesbee
By  Emily Unglesbee , DTN Staff Reporter
Connect with Emily:
(Logo courtesy of National Wheat Foundation, Photo by Jim Patrico)

National Wheat Foundation 2021 National Wheat Yield Contest winners share their formulas for success.


Steven VanGrunsven
Forest Grove, Oregon
Variety: Limagrain LCS Shine
Yield: 192.73 bpa

The Players: Steven VanGrunsven farms with his wife, Anna, a sixth-generation dairy farmer, while working as a crop consultant for Valley Agronomics, in the Willamette Valley. Wheat is a rotational crop they plug into their farm's busy lineup of grass seed, crimson and red clover seed, corn, alfalfa and other forage crops.

The Field: This soft white wheat field followed a silage corn crop. One million seeds per acre, a shot of dairy manure and a mild winter got it off to a roaring start. "We got some great tillering through the winter," VanGrunsven recalls. With the rich manure source at work, he used a growth regulator to keep overgrowth at bay in the spring, as well as applying urea, potash and sulfur. Overall, his total nitrogen load landed around 200 units, he says. Three fungicide applications kept disease away, and 7 inches of irrigation supplemented the measly 2 inches of rain his region saw between March and July.

The Challenges: Drought and extreme, record-setting heat scorched his area this year. "We had 114° days in late June -- that decimated crops," VanGrunsven recalls. "Fortunately for this field, we happened to have irrigated just before that hit."

The Winning Card: Easy access to dairy manure gives his wheat an advantage, VanGrunsven says. But, picking good genetics is his operation's all-important backstop. "Some breeders say, 'Breed for the worst, hope for the best,' and it's definitely true," he says. "It helped us this year."


Scot Poffenberger, Billy Willard Jr. and Joe Sayer
William F. Willard Farms, Poolesville, Maryland
Variety: Pioneer 26R59
Yield: 141.41 bpa

The Players: Scot Poffenberger is the farm manager for William F. Willard Farms, nestled in Montgomery County, Maryland, a region which the farm shares with more than a million people. Together with farm partners Billy Willard Jr. and Joe Sayer, they grow corn, soybeans, wheat and sorghum on 2,500 acres split among dozens of fields, some as small as a few acres.

The Field: This soft red winter wheat field went in at 2 million seeds per acre in perfect planting conditions in the fall, along with some broadcast nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, and a new micronutrient product Poffenberger is staying mum on. The field received split-nutrient sidedressing passes at green-up, Feekes 6 and Feekes 10, with his total nutrient load landing around 145 pounds of nitrogen, 150 pounds of potassium and 30 pounds of phosphorus. That last pass included insecticide and fungicide, as well. "It seems like the past few years, head scab gets worse and worse in this area," Poffenberger says. Twelve to 15 inches of rainfall at well-timed intervals finished the field beautifully.

The Challenges: Getting pesticides on in a timely fashion in May is hard between weather and applicator demand, Poffenberger says. "We're hoping to purchase our own sprayer at the farm this year."

The Winning Card: Mother Nature gets a lot of credit this year, with timely rains and a dry harvest period, Poffenberger says. But, his love of experimenting has brought some exciting new products to the farm, as well. "If you give me something to try, I'll always throw it on a few acres," he says.


Phillip Gross
Warden Hutterian Brethren, Warden, Washington
Variety: AgriPro AP Venom
Yield: 184.36 bpa

The Players: Phillip Gross farms within a large family farm called the Warden Hutterian Brethren. Based in central Washington, the operation covers about 25,000 acres and produces a diverse range of dryland and irrigated crops, such as potatoes, corn, mint and wheat.

The Field: This field of hard red spring wheat was planted in the fall at 800,000 seeds per acre and powered through several hard freezes in the spring, Gross says. Most of the fertilizer went on at planting, when he added 130 pounds of nitrogen, 20 pounds of phosphate and 20 pounds of sulfur. "Because it went in behind corn, there was so much nutrient release from the corn stover that we just kept an eye out and tissue- and soil-sampled, and never needed anything in the spring," he says. Twenty acre-inches of irrigation helped the wheat weather the hot, dry season but also made conditions right for head scab and Fusarium head blight. So, Gross sprayed fungicides twice.

The Challenges: The extreme heat and dryness was "humbling" this year, Gross says. "We had 118° with 22-mph winds right when the wheat was going from milk stages into soft dough," Gross recalls. "It just dehydrated it and took 35 to 40% off of the yield."

The Winning Card: Scouting and sampling are his secret weapons. "We just try to stay proactive and stay ahead of any problems that we know can show up on wheat -- insects, stripe rust, head scab," Gross says.


John Hofer
Sundale Farm, Milnor, North Dakota
Variety: WestBred WB9590
Yield: 122.23 bpa

The Players: John Hofer farms on Sundale Farm, a multifamily operation spanning 12,000 acres in the southeastern corner of North Dakota. They raise turkey and hogs, and grow wheat, corn and soybeans.

The Field: This field of hard red spring wheat got off to a good start but quickly ran into hot, droughty conditions. "At one time in June, I thought it was going to make nothing," Hofer recalls. But, Mother Nature nursed it along with about 4 inches of rain delivered in hundredths of inches at a time throughout the growing season. Because of the grim growing conditions, Hofer didn't sidedress the crop at boot stage as he normally would, but it did receive 100 units of nitrogen, 50 units of phosphate and 40 units of potash broadcast before planting. He also applied fungicides twice, as well as insecticide.

The Challenges: The drought that plagued the Northern Plains in 2021 kept Hofer guessing all season. "For awhile, it looked like there wasn't going to be any wheat," he says. His wheat stalled out at 18 to 20 inches tall as a result.

The Winning Card: Poultry manure smells pretty sweet to wheat, Hofer says. "We raise turkeys and then have to go somewhere with their byproducts -- that's good stuff," he says. "Smells a bit but worth it." Ultimately, timely rains were the real lifesaver this year, small as they were. "We watched it just hang on for dear life, and then a few rains hit just right, and it really came around," Hofer recalls.



First Place: Jeffery Krohn
Owendale, Michigan
Variety: Dyna-Gro 9242
Yield: 140.55 bpa

Second Place: Brian Kreider
Lebanon, Pennsylvania
Variety: Pioneer 25R74
Yield: 140.43 bpa

Third Place: Douglas Goyings
Paulding, Ohio
Variety: Strike 403
Yield: 138.27 bpa

Fourth Place: Michael Ebelhar
Loretto, Kentucky
Variety: AgriMAXX 505
Yield: 126.07 bpa

Fifth Place: Tyler Ediger
Meade, Kansas
Variety: WestBred WB4792
Yield: 125.66 bpa


First Place: Travis Freeburg
Pine Bluffs, Wyoming
Variety: Plains Gold Langin
Yield: 108.29 bpa, 257% above Kimball County's average

Second Place: Shawn Kimbrell
Sunray, Texas
Variety: West Bred WB4595
Yield: 50.9 bpa, 211% above Moore County's average

Third Place: Zach Balahtsis
Tonkawa, Oklahoma
Variety: Limagrain LCS Helix AX
Yield: 101.21 bpa, 201% above Grant County's average

Fourth Place: Kenneth O'Neal
Groom, Texas
Variety: WestBred WB4792
Yield: 76.54 bpa, 190% above Carson County's average

Fifth Place: Matt Jaeger
Minneola, Kansas
Variety: WestBred WB4792
Yield: 122.47 bpa, 178% above Clark County's average


First Place: Dallas Diesen
Wannaska, Minnesota
Variety: WestBred WB9590
Yield: 114.81 bpa

Second Place: Robert Holzwarth
Hazel, South Dakota
Variety: Limagrain LCS Cannon
Yield: 110.54 bpa

Third Place: Bruce Anderson
Valley City, North Dakota
Variety: WestBred WB9590
Yield: 108.23 bpa


First Place: Greg Messer
Richardton, North Dakota
Variety: WestBred WB 9590
Yield: 108.04 bpa, 158% above Stark County's average

Second Place: Chris Carlson
Mott, North Dakota
Variety: WestBred WB9719
Yield: 82.22 bpa, 91% above Hettinger County's average

Third Place: Jordan Christman
Hettinger, North Dakota
Variety: WestBred WB9719
Yield: 64.2 bpa, 83% above Adams County's average


First Place: Rylee Reynolds
Castleford, Idaho
Variety: Syngenta SY Ovation
Yield: 190.06 bpa

Second Place: Joel Zwainz
Lincoln, Washington
Variety: Limagrain LCS Shine
Yield: 182.18 bpa


First Place: Boe Clausen
Warden, Washington
Variety: AgriPro AP Venom
Yield: 157.73 bpa

Second Place: Dallin Wilcox
Rexburg, Idaho
Variety: WestBred WB7589
Yield: 147.65 bpa


Past Issues