What does it take to grow a world-record wheat crop?
Eric Watson was hailed the world wheat yield record holder in 2017. We met him during the BASF Innovation Tour to New Zealand. Staggeringly, from a seed rate of just 65kg/ha, he yielded 16.791 t/ha from his crop of Oakley, with his yield mapping recording areas achieving the elusive 20t/ha. The crop was sown on the 7th of April (equivalent to 7 October) in very good sowing conditions and was in the ground for 10.5 months, so the harvest was around mid-March. Like many of the high-yielding wheat growers in New Zealand’s South Island, he follows a very long, and as he describes flexible, rotation which includes grass leys. Crops include grass seed, some for six years (red fescue and timothy), vegetable seed, alternate pasture, chicory (which has a good root structure) and plantain. 490ha of his farm is fully irrigated. Agronomically, it received two herbicides – one pre-em and one post-em, for the New Zealanders’ problem weed, cleavers, followed by a five-spray programme, including a T0 of epoxiconazole (in NZ farmers aren’t allowed to use chlorothalonil on feed crops) and the SDHI at T2. Eric undertakes deep N soil sampling and applied 285kg/ha of nitrogen, plus P&K and trace elements. His use of technology is fundamental to his approach, including neutron probes for soil moisture, yield mapping and fortnightly trace element tests. Machinery wise he uses a high HP Quad Trac 450, has his own base station, automation wherever possible and variable rate fertiliser spreading. His sprayer is a 48m Agrafac. He cites attention to detail as key, saying that yield is king, variable costs are vital to invest in for yield and that irrigation is insurance for his system. Every day that he can keep leaves green is another 200kg of yield. Looking ahead to their 2019 harvest, Eric wasn’t feeling so confident about yields, the season has started very wet. He said that the farm’s rainfall was usually 620mm, this spring he has had 940mm already. Photo caption: Ben Freer renewing acquaintances with Eric Watson who he first met when Eric visited Morley Research Centre in Norfolk on his frequent visits to the UK some 15 years ago learning about UK arable research. It was great to meet up again and finally reciprocate the visit.