Trying to get the wheat dried out for harvest this season proved to be a challenge but it seems like the 2019 winter wheat harvest is a wrap.

“It was a long drawn our harvest but I believe the last wheat was harvested this past weekend,” said Doug Hashman of Hashman Farms.

Nebraska farmers typically harvest between 55 and 70 million bushels of wheat from roughly 1.5 million acres of land each year. That being said, wheat is number 10 on the list of Nebraska’s Top 10 Agricultural Products behind commodities like beef, corn, sugar beets, and soy beans. About 50 percent of Nebraska’s wheat crop is exported to international markets.

Did you know that wheat was first discovered by hunter-gatherers in Mesopotamia around 15,000 B.C., and was first cultivated by man around 9,000 B.C.? Since those early days, wheat has developed into the world’s most widely grown crop and is now the staple food for a third of the global population.

One of the wheat fields at Cullan Farms is one of 15 test sites across Nebraska for the University of Nebraska and Limagrain Cereal Seeds LLC.

“Historically there are one to two irrigated sites and usually 13 to 14 dry land/rain fed sites across the state,” said P. Stephen Baenziger - UNL Professor and Nebraska Wheat Growers Presidential Chair.

A process that he guessed had been done for at least 60 years.

“To me it’s one of those things that happens every year but it’s an interesting process that I’m sure a lot of people don’t know about,” Baenziger said.

Marla Dale Barnett, PhD works for Limagrain Cereal Seeds as a wheat breeder. 

“We have trials in Hemingford with the goal of finding new wheat lines that perform well for Nebraska and the High Plains,” Barnett said.

 “They come out to test current varieties and varieties that they are developing for the future,” said Chris Cullan.

The tests measure Agronomic Performance - yield, weight, protein. And also test a little for market standards for when the grower goes to sell it.

“The yields in Box Butte County this year were stunning!” Baenziger said.

The tests are done to help them understanding plant development as that can be helpful for making management decisions. The optimum timing of fertilizer, irrigation, herbicide, insecticide, and fungicide applications are best determined by crop growth stage rather than calendar date.

The impact of various crop stresses such as frost, heat, drought, disease, insect damage, or weed competition can be more accurately predicted with a clear understanding of the relationships between crop growth stage and plant response to stress.

“Last year I described 2018 as an unusual year, so this must make 2019 another unusual year,” Baenziger said. “However, I really think this year’s precipitation patterns make it hard to provide variety recommendations. I base this on needing to use summaries to get the data to assess consistent performance.”

In Baenziger’s article ‘Update on Wheat Varieties for Nebraska 2019’ he stated, “The difficulty with this year’s data are that we had some pretty major separations in varieties in specific locations. For example, in the Box Butte Irrigated location, NE15420 was 6 bu/ac better than the second-best line. Next year, when the two-year averages are developed, this excellent year performance will give it a real advantage in the two-year means. Some other surprises were that Robidoux topped the dryland trial in Box Butte County at 88.3 bu/ac, but in the irrigated Box Butte County trial, Robidoux was the lowest yielding line at 80.8 bu/ac. Does this mean that Robidoux prefers not having water? I doubt it.”

“Finally, when you have a year like this with above-normal rainfall, the yield means are very high, which will bias the over-year means to the highest yielding year. For example, a line that yielded 100 bu/ac in 2019, 50 bu/ac in 2018, and 50 bu/ac in 2017 has a three-year average of 66.7 bu/ac. Another variety that yielded 60 bu/ac in 2019, 60 bu/ac in 2018, and 60 bu/ac in 2017 would have a three-year average of 60 bu/ac. If you thought the 2019-2020 growing season was going to be more like 2017 and 2018, which variety would you select?”

“Having said this, to make your variety selections for the 2019-2020 growing season, I would go to the state winter wheat variety trials website and look at the 2019 data and the 2018 data, especially for those lines that have been tested and reported in the three-years averages for 2018 and 2019. It will give you a better understanding of the varieties’ performances. I will not summarize the data here as you can readily get it from the website.” 

“Another aspect to consider is that while everyone looks at and writes about grain yield, when I talk to growers, especially with these market prices, it is good to look at the other traits that affect the value of your wheat (e.g., test weight and protein content). Test weight is a trait that is generally not too affected by weather swings except for rain at harvest, which lowers test weight. Even in pretty unusual years, the relative difference among lines for test weight will be expressed.”

“Protein is much more environmentally sensitive than test weight and is more like grain yield (e.g., quite variable). Also, generally the protein content in the variety trials is a little higher than in commercial fields because the alley ways are not planted and there may be more space between plots within a tier, hence each plot has more soil N to draw from in a small plot trial. However, relative genetic differences for protein content will be seen in the data. If you want to avoid discounts at the elevator, look at the test weight and protein content in the state variety report.”

“It should be noted that the state variety trial report also includes data on winter triticale and barley for those small-grain producers who are interested in those crops.”

“Support for this research from the Nebraska Wheat Board is gratefully acknowledged.”

Check out the results of the tests. 

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