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Eric Watson, a Guinness World Record holder for winter wheat yield from New Zealand, achieved about 247 bushels per acre in 2017 with a feed type wheat under irrigation. Photo taken at Baltic, S.D., July 25, 2018. (Forum News Service/Agweek/Mikkel Pates)

Yield contest champs: How'd they do that again?

BALTIC, S.D. — Meet Eric Watson, a Guinness World Record holder for winter wheat yield.

Watson achieved a whopping 247 bushels per acre (16.79 metric tons per hectare), and was one of more than 20 national and international yield winners attending the Ag PhD field day on July 26 near Baltic.

The winners were celebrities in their own right, meeting the public on a small plot on which they'd directed care, and attracting crowds.

"One of the crucial things is getting the timing right," says Watson, 68, of New Zealand's South Island.

Watson explained that his 2017 record yield in New Zealand was more than 10 percent better than what he'd done before, in part due to favorable weather. Achieving the yield required going over the field roughly 15 times.

He'd planted a longer-maturity English wheat designed for the feed market, which delivers a higher yield than milling wheat. The farm is near the village of Wakanui on the Canterbury Plain, about six miles from the coast.

Watson planted on April 9, 2016, ("autumn") establishing 110 plants per square meter in minimum-tillage seedbed, which is equivalent to 57 pounds per acre, as expressed in the U.S.

The seed was pre-treated with tebuconazole, as well as fluquinconazole, for rust and mildew protection. He used the neonicotinoid Poncho (clothianidin) to protect against aphids.

Unprotected crops in his part of New Zealand were affected by rust and aphids. Watson sprayed his wheat with five insecticides at about 21-day intervals after the start of tillering, to control aphids to prevent transmission of the yellow dwarf virus. Watson said he made three applications of plant growth regulators, including Moddus, a Syngenta product labeled as Palisade in the U.S.

For weeds, he used a flufenacet-diflufenican mix the day after drilling and Othello (mesosulfuron, iodosulfuron and diflufenican) post-emergence. To control fungus diseases, he applied a "foundation spray" at the so-called T0 stage, using epoxiconazole in late August for septoria and yellow and brown rusts, just before the crop hit growth stage 31, which he described as the end of tillering.

Also for fungus, Watson applied three different azole fungicides at the T1 (when the the third leaf emerges"), T2 , T3, and T4 stages, which refer to the growth level of main tiller stems, or about every 28 days. He followed up those with Folpet fungicide at T1, followed by the SDHI-azole product Aviator Xpro at the T2 and T3 sprayings. And at T3 and T4 he also sprayed strobilurin to protect against brown rust.

Sound like a lot? That doesn't count the fertility.

Preplant, the soil had adequate levels of phosphate and potash based on variable-rate applications over six prior years. He applied some more at planting, to maintain those levels during the season.

The soil tested for 89 pounds per acre of residual nitrogen. He calculated another 36 pounds would come from mineralization of organic matter. On top of that, he applied 230 pounds in solid form in three applications, based on soil tests. He also applied trace elements in a multi-mineral foliar spray, as well as manganese and zinc formulas.

Watson only had to irrigate twice in 2017, dictated by soil moisture probes, with 0.8 inches applied. In a dry season, he normally would apply nearly 10 inches.

Here are two other yield-winning stories:

Colossal corn

Kevin Kalb, 43, from Dubois, Ind., had a 150-acre cornfield that last year averaged over 340 bushels per acre. Within that, they have 10-acre parcels of land identified for the contests.

Kalb and his wife, Shawn, helped by their kids, have been national winners in the National Corn Growers Association contest nine times, including five first-place and four second-place. They compete in the 2A non-irrigated contest.

A seed corn dealer encouraged Kalb to get into the contest in 2007 and that "kind of hooked us on it," Kalb says. "We've always grown good corn, but we didn't know how we'd be against Iowa and Illinois. Lo and behold, the first year we were good enough to get second place in 2007."

In addition to corn and soybeans, they raise turkeys apply turkey manure for fertility.

In 2017, the family had by far their best year, turning five entries over 350 bushels per acre. They had 150 acres that averaged more than 340 bushels per acre — on non-irrigated land in the river bottom. "Normally, we're pretty happy if those two river bottoms make 250," he says. He says the farm had an unusually cool August, which made it more competitive with northern Illinois or Iowa.

Kalb starts with a so-called "two-by-two-by-two" fertilizer — banding it with a planter on both sides of the row. "We feel that's one of the biggest yield-influencers you can have," he says. He pulls tissue samples when the crop hits 300 growing degree units. "If everything is growing at a normal pace, we try to 'Y' drop it," he says, describing an applicator that puts supplemental fertilizer close to the roots of growing corn plants.

"We come back and wait to see what our tissue samples come back and adjust nitrogen to what our samples come back and adjust" applications accordingly, Kalb says. If the corn gets to the V10 to V14 and not have a flood, and tissue samples support it, they "make that last pass and pour the coals to it."

They usually apply fungicides twice. Last year, they were threatened by southern rust, and they made three passes on some corn. "We found out how important it is to keep that corn plant as green and healthy as it can be, all the way to the black layer," he says, referring to "physiological maturity," indicated by a layer of cells turning dark where the kernel attaches to the cob.

Last year the highest-yield plots were afforded a $450 per acre profit ($3.50 per bushel price). "That was probably the first time ever where we made more money on our contest acres than what we did on our non-contest acres, which normally doesn't happen," he says, adding, "Be sure to put that in your article."

Super soybeans

Jimmy Frederick, 37, of Rulo in southeast Nebraska, achieved 163.9 bushels per acre of soybeans to win state and national titles in 2017.

He used a 2.8 RM (relative maturity group rating) variety. Typically, that variety would achieve 70 to 90 bushels per acre, on heavy gumbo soils.

Frederick said he planted a relatively low planting population of 115,000 plants per acre and ended up with 100,000 plants per acre, compared to a normal of 150,000 to 160,000 plants per acre.

Planting too densely can limit lateral branching, which helps put the bean nodes closer together on a plant. Nodes are the groups of buds that produce leaves, branches and flowers.

Frederick believes one key to his success has been in the so-called "biologicals." This includes microbes and solutions of "generated sugars," plant growth regulators. He went across the field five to six times with the biologicals. He has a tank on the tractor, the planter and uses different fertilizer outlets and rates on the planter for specific placements. His higher rates are directed away from the seed, while others are beneath the seed.

"You really don't want to get your bean plants too tall," he adds. "If you excite the plant early with too much fertilizer, the plant becomes elongated and you have a lot more stem between the nodes. You want to keep everything 3 feet at the max, and put your nodes a lot closer together. That's huge."

Frederick swears by advice on biologicals from the company Biovante, of Bernie, Mo., led by Chris Masters. One of the keys to high-yield achievement is to "figure out a consistency from year to year," Frederick says. He thinks his chances for 2018 are looking good and better than 2017.

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