Protect the plant to boost productivity

When Paula Halabicki was in school, if she earned a 92 percent on a test, her father would tell her, “You left some room for improvement.”

Halabicki, technical services manager at BASF, relayed that story to producers at Wheat U in Spokane, Washington, Dec. 5, because the average U.S. wheat yield is 46 bushels per acre. In 2016, the top winter wheat yield in the United States was 198 bushels per acre, on irrigated land in Washington. Her point? Wheat producers “leave some room for improvement” in nearly every crop they produce. Some of them are easy tweaks to management, some are much more difficult.

“A bag of seed has a lot of potential. Usually there is one thing more limiting than others. Find that one thing and begin to bring it up,” Halabicki said. “There are a lot of opportunities for us to try and improve yields.”

Seed quality is a great place to start, as about 60 percent of final yield potential is determined at planting, she said. Poor seed cannot be improved, so choose good quality seed that has been germ tested. And when the variety has been selected and germination tested, that seed might need to be protected from insects such as wireworms and aphids, plus both seed borne and soil borne diseases. Growers should plan for a seed treatment if the field has a history of disease, or the seed tests positive for any level of fusarium or cochliobolus. Seed treatments can improve health of young plants above and below ground headed into winter dormancy. At spring greenup, those plants tend to be more vigorous, have greater yield potential and are more capable of handling environmental stresses.

Growing season stressors

A well-established crop needs plenty of help during the greenup and stem elongation stage. This is when foliar diseases can come into play. Tan spot, leaf rust and stripe rust all can damage leaf health, inhibiting the leaf’s ability to turn sunlight into biomass, Halabicki said. If weather conditions are prime for these diseases, growers may want to consider using a preventative fungicide. A crop that shows symptoms of foliar diseases has likely been sick for sometime and that can sap productivity.

“If you wait until visible symptoms, all the things that happened in the latent period reduce your yield,” she said. “If you know conditions are ripe—and you know the physiology of the plant—take precautions.”

The top three leaves contribute 80 percent of the plant’s photosynthesis; the flag leaf, 45 percent by itself.

“The flag leaf is there to capture sun-light and turn it to sugars. If the flag leaf is green, the factory is working. If it is not, the factory doesn’t run at peak efficiency,” Halabicki said.

To that end, protecting the flag leaf is a must. A fungicide application at flag leaf can boost yield dramatically over non-treated fields when disease pressure is present. But make that fungicide application count, she added. Apply prior to development of symptoms to maximize efficiency, make sure to adjust sprayer speed and nozzle droplet size to ensure adequate coverage and use at least 10 gallons per acre with a ground rig (5 gallons with an airplane) to maximize coverage.

Bill Spiegel can be reached at 785-587-7796 or [email protected].