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5 ways to produce winning wheat yields

Kacey Birchmier 03/07/2014 @ 2:29pm Agronomy & Conservation Editor for Successful Farming and Agriculture.com. I grew up on a fourth-generation farm in central Iowa. Follow me on twitter - @KaceyBirchmier.

Over the past 25 years, brothers Brad and Chuck Minton, Hopkinsville, Kentucky, have been able to produce record wheat yields. New technology has enabled them to triple their wheat yields to an average of 80 to 90 bushels per acre. However, a technology claim by a company doesn’t necessarily mean the Mintons will use it. 

“We’re hesitant to do anything until it pays to do it,” says Brad. 

If it doesn’t show an increase in profitability, the Mintons don’t waste their time on it. From the end of January until the end of May, they make five different trips through the field. In the end, if it doesn’t help their bottom line, it doesn’t make the cut. Their corn, soybean, and wheat rotation consists of 80% corn followed by wheat.

Here are five ways they do it.

1. Risk management

To sum up their varietal selection approach, they don’t put all their eggs in one basket.

They choose three or four different maturities and seven different varieties. By doing so, they spread the risk from planting to harvest. That way, if the weather doesn’t cooperate or there’s a pest problem, they hope different maturities or varieties will escape the majority of the risk. 

2. Preventive maintenance

They view fungicide applications as a preventive measure to keep the wheat plant healthy. In the past, they applied fungicide as needed. Now, they apply it whether or not they think the crop needs it – as a preventive measure.

“It’s preventive maintenance. We’re able to manage it from the start,” says Chuck.  

“Quilt Xcel as an early timing fungicide, at jointing, has two modes of action. It protects the vitality of the seed head that’s developing,” says Sarah Gehant, Syngenta agronomic service representative. 

Scouting is also crucial in the Mintons’ management program. Managing the fields in zones allows them to break down the field, get the most out of each acre, and stay ahead of potential problems. 

3. Weed and Pest programs

Their weed program has changed over the years, too. They no longer apply herbicides as a blanket approach. Now, they use multiple modes of action and residuals, and there is a focus on noticing potential resistance before it becomes a problem. 

The drilled wheat has a biological seed treatment to start with, and they try to no-till 30% of their acres. However, no-till does require more of a micromanaged approach.  

To control insects, they use products like Cruiser and Vibrance Extreme. They view it not just as a solution for the pest, but as a solution for overall plant health. 

4. Fertilizer program

Another change came in their fertilizer program. Now, they split spring nitrogen (N) applications based on tiller count. If needed, they’ll apply extra N to boost the tiller count. In a normal year, they apply 20 pounds per acre of N in the fall and do two applications in the spring, each around 45 pounds per acre.

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