2022 National Wheat Yield Contest Results
The Scoop on High-Yield Wheat
Wheat earned its reputation for being a resilient crop in 2022. Despite challenging weather conditions in several growing regions, the crop set new yield records and met strict quality standards in the National Wheat Yield Contest.
Three irrigated entries binned more than 200 bushels per acre (bpa). At the top of the heap was 27-year-old Rylee Reynolds, a fourth-generation farmer from Castleford, Idaho, with an entry of 231.37 bpa of irrigated soft white winter wheat -- beating the previous contest high of 211.59 bpa recorded in 2019.
Now in its seventh year, the contest sponsored by the National Wheat Foundation (NWF) is designed to encourage farmers to strive for high yield, quality and profit while trying new and innovative management strategies. DTN/Progressive Farmer is the official media partner.
All four Bin Buster yield winners hailed from the Pacific Northwest. Growers from 27 states participated in the contest. Total entries dipped slightly to 335, with nearly half being taken to harvest, reflecting the tough conditions in states such as Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.
Still, Anne Osborne, NWF's project manager for the contest, reflects that dryland yields of more than 100 bushels per acre were entered from drought-challenged states, illustrating the tenacity of both the crop and the farmers who manage it.
MEET THE BIN BUSTER WINNERS:
IRRIGATED WINTER WHEAT:
Variety: AgriPro SY Ovation
Yield: 231.37 bpa
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.
In 2020, Rylee submitted the third-highest-yielding entry in the category, and last year, his winter wheat was national runner-up.
Rylee's yield of 231.37 bpa not only topped the irrigated winter wheat category in 2022, 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.
The Reynolds family -- including Rylee's wife, Madison, and son, Baker -- farms about 3,000 acres in the "Magic Valley" region of south-central Idaho. Here, irrigation provides the "magic," transforming an otherwise parched desert landscape into a veritable agricultural cornucopia. Besides wheat, they grow corn, dry edible beans and some specialty beans. They also raise Holstein steers and alfalfa.
"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 explains. "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."
Rylee says they don't do anything different on competition acres. Seed is broadcast with an air spreader during the last week of September.
Fall fertilization usually includes 50 to 60 units of nitrogen and 30 to 40 units of phosphorus. Additional nitrogen is applied in the spring. "We have very heavy soil, so we also use a lot of sulfur," Rylee says. "It allows the nutrients to break down and keeps the soil opened up a little bit."
The fourth-generation farmer says the winning variety, AgriPro SY Ovation, tillers well in both the fall and spring, and then puts on a head to match.
In a region where annual precipitation averages about 7 inches, water is the determining factor when growing crops. Several inches of fall rain kept the wheat sending out tillers after irrigation water had shut off.
"We got a nice slow rain before our water turned back on the following spring. I'd love to say I'm a great farmer, but it was mostly the year we had," Rylee says.
DRYLAND WINTER WHEAT:
Variety: Limagrain LCS Shine
Yield: 166.12 bpa
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. That year, he got 13 inches.
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 says. "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. His son, Garrett, a partner in the family operation and a previous winner in the state contest, encouraged him to enter.
In addition to wheat, Warren and his wife, Mary, also raise dried peas, garbanzo beans and feed barley 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 says.
"Variety selection is important," Warren says. "We chose Shine because of its high yield potential in cereal variety plots and its good disease resistance."
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 says. "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 says his county average is typically in the 70s or 80s.
"When you're dryland, it's all about who gets the benefit of Mother Nature," he adds.
IRRIGATED SPRING WHEAT:
Moses Lake, Washington
Variety: AgriPro AP Venom
Yield: 195.40 bpa
Derek Friehe is no stranger to the wheat contest winner's circle. He topped the irrigated winter wheat category and achieved the top honors in the 2020 contest with a yield of 206.70 bpa on Limagrain Jet.
He came back in 2022 to win the irrigated spring wheat 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 says. "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 says, adding that fall planting gives the plant a head start that he sees all season long -- if the crop survives the winter.
Friehe can usually count on 8 or 9 inches of precipitation each year in this area of east-central Washington, which he supplements with irrigation from the Columbia Basin Project. 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 notes. "Planting in the fall helps us dodge that heat a bit," he says. Harvest often comes just a little sooner on the fall-planted spring wheat, he says.
Intensive management, particularly for aphids, was also key. 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 says.
The wheat contest has pushed Friehe to scrutinize management. "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 explains.
DRYLAND SPRING WHEAT:
Bruce and Helle Ruddenklau
Variety: WestBred WB9668
Yield: 125.08 bpa
It's not uncommon for 40 inches of rain to fall in western Oregon each year. That keeps wheat disease management top of mind for Bruce Ruddenklau.
His entry in the 2022 wheat contest was a hard red spring variety bred with a disease-resistance package that helped it fight septoria and stripe rust. He harvested 125.08 bpa of WestBred WB9668 to achieve Bin Buster honors in the spring wheat dryland category.
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 says. "Yes, we are dryland production, but with irrigation supplied by Mother Nature."
Several years ago, an Oregon soy sauce manufacturer sought a local wheat supply. Ruddenklau's wife, Helle, with a wheat background from Oregon State University, selected the WestBred variety based on protein content.
Ruddenklau thinks the variety holds more potential. "We struggled to get a good stand with the wet spring conditions. I think it can do better," he says.
Grass seeds are Ruddenklau's primary crop. His 2022 contest field had been in turf-type perennial ryegrass but was struggling to make a second crop. So, he planted the field to spring peas in 2021 and followed with a cover crop of oats the following fall 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 were used to assess nitrogen availability in the plant and soil. Nitrogen is critical to meet the soy sauce manufacturer's 13 to 13.5% protein requirement.
Controlled traffic is another strategy to protect yield. "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," he says.
Crops other than grass offer valuable rotational opportunities, particularly for 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 says.
"If we can get production that's pretty decent, a hard red spring specialty premium and a rotational crop, then wheat's benefits start to look better," Ruddenklau explains.
HOW THE CONTEST WORKS:
The National Wheat Yield 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.
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's 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.
In total, there were 24 national winners from nine states and 66 state yield winners representing 27 states recognized.
MEET THE 2022 NATIONAL WINNERS:
WINTER WHEAT DRYLAND CATEGORY:
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:
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:
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
PUT WHEAT TO THE QUALITY TEST:
Not only is the wheat yield contest showing that farmers are moving the needle on yield, it's also starting to dismiss some long-held beliefs that high yields come at a sacrifice of quality, says Anne Osborne, National Wheat Foundation's project manager for the contest.
For the past few years, entries have been required to meet Grade 1 or Grade 2 standards to be ranked in the contest. New for 2022 was the requirement that all 24 national winners submit a 6-pound sample of their winning entries to be subjected to a battery of baking and milling tests to determine if they measured up to industry desired factors such as test weight, protein, falling numbers and other considerations. Samples were taken to final product of a loaf of bread, sugar cookie or sponge cake, depending on the class of wheat.
"It's one year of information, but 90% of the quality parameters tested met or exceeded targets for their class of wheat," Osborne explains. "We're looking forward to learning a lot from this portion of the contest and sharing that to increase knowledge across the value chain."
FOR MORE INFORMATION
-- For a complete list of contest rules, visit https://yieldcontest.wheatfoundation.org/…
-- Jason Jenkins, DTN Crops Editor, contributed to this story. Follow Jason on Twitter @JasonJenkinsDTN
-- Follow the latest from Pamela Smith, DTN Crops Technology Editor, by visiting the Production Blogs at https://www.dtnpf.com/… or following her on Twitter @PamSmithDTN
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