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Fields of amber

03/21/2011 @ 10:24am

When wet weather patterns spawned disease in North Dakota’s traditional durum wheat country, many durum growers switched to hard red spring wheat.

Still, North Dakota farmers Jim Diepolder, Willow City, and Larry Neubauer, Bottineau, continued to grow the amber fields of durum they’ve raised since the 1970s. They’ve evolved strategies that help them consistently hit the durum milling-quality marketing target.

“I’ve always found that the benefits of yield, quality, and a price premium have made durum a good crop for my farm,” says Neubauer, president of the U.S. Durum Growers Association (USDGA). “I’ve historically sold durum for more than spring wheat.”

Indeed, last year’s price spread between spring wheat and durum was as much as $6 a bushel. Other years, however, the per-bushel price difference between the crops has ranged from 60¢ to $2, says Diepolder, past president of the USDGA.

Steps for top-notch durum

Missing the milling-quality mark can discount durum wheat 50¢ to $1.50 per bushel. Yet, these strategies help Neubauer and Diepolder consistently grow high-quality durum.

• Rotate the sequence. Neubauer follows this rotational order: durum or spring wheat, barley, canola or flax or sunflowers, and durum.

Durum yields best when following canola, says Neubauer. “The canola ground is mellow, and, of course, the moisture usage stops earlier in canola fields because the canola is harvested earlier in the season than flax or sunflower,” he says.

He avoids following spring wheat with durum for at least three years. This prevents volunteer wheat seeds from surfacing in harvested durum.

Diepolder likes to grow durum after sunflowers. Sunflower ground tends to be drier during spring durum planting. That’s particularly helpful during wet cycles, when durum disease pressure is greatest.

• Know your soil type. “Durum does well in sandy and medium-loam soils,” says Neubauer. “But it doesn’t like saline soil. Spring wheat does better in that type of soil.”

• Select new varieties. “In the more recent varieties that have been developed, yields and quality have gone up, and gluten contents have gotten higher,” says Diepolder.

• Manage the residue. Diepolder likes to fall-harrow harvest residue before seeding durum in spring. 

“Harrowing the residue starts the volunteer seedlings from the previous crop,” he says. “A good spreader on a combine chops and spreads the chaff and residue. My only reason for harrowing is to germinate volunteer growth and to reduce the moisture loss it might cause the following season.”

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