Saturday, 21 December 2013

He's a Record Breaker -Day 26

The following morning I set off in search of a world record holder.  Mike Solari currently holds the Guinness Book of Records highest recorded wheat yield in the world.  The record, harvested on the 8th March 2010 was a crop of Einstein, which averaged out at 15.637 t/Ha.
Mike farms with his wife Margaret near Gore in Southland, just down the road from where I stayed the previous night with Peter and Esther.  I met up with Mike, Margaret and Steve Wilkins for a yarn about rotation, wheat varieties, fertilizer, fungicides and how all of these ingredients add up to a record breaking crop.

We started off at the very beginning with the rotation which includes a two year grass break to help build organic matter and create soil structure.  Included in this rotation are 3 wheat’s, a spring barley, spring peas winter Oilseed rape and finally a winter barley to get good establishment of the grass ley.  The grassland is now let out to a local farmer who runs ewes and lambs over the whole area for grazing only.  Many of the lambs are finished very quickly, due to the clover in the grass fields especially in the second year.
The soil type is a silt loam over silt and some gravel in places, and the cool climate suits slow grain filling for large crops of wheat.  The natural rainfall, especially summer rainfall, during grain fill maximize the potentially high yields of all crops on the farm.
All of the crop residues are chopped and ploughed in to return organic matter to the soil, which is sub-soiled twice in the rotation before wheat, once after peas and the second time after oilseeds.  Mike is sure that sub-soiling helps to structure the soil, which has the tendency to run together, so no rolling post drilling is allowed. Mike aims to establish a modest plant population of about 100-110 plants in the spring with somewhere near 600ears/m2 and it’s not hard to see where they can come from!
This plant had about 18 tillers, admittedly it was from a slightly below average population but it just goes to show what potential there is for the plants to develop and tiller out with strong viable stems.  The plants are not wasting energy by growing tillers and then aborting them.  If this amount of growth appears above the ground then what are the roots doing to support this growth? 
Fertilizer plans are mapped out at the start of the season feeding for expected yield and soil mineral nitrogen samples are taken to monitor the available nitrogen held within the soil.  After the two years of grass there could be as much as 140Kg/ha available to the following wheat crop.  The highest yields have come further into the rotation after the peas though.  A total of 5 applications are used on the crop to steady build the yield through the growing season.  Fertilizer is used as a tiller management tool, when required and Mike will be ruthless in holding back fertiliser until GS 31/32 if there are two many tillers.  Even to the stage of the crops turning yellow with tiller loss.
Prolonging the photosynthesis of the plants is also key and keeping disease out of the canopy is of prime concern.  A strong fungicide approach, aimed at septoria control, means that the high yielding crops remain in the field for 51 weeks of the year.  It’s this extended grain fill period, coupled with cool temperatures and good solar interception that Mike is sure accumulates the yield in the crop.
This picture above is one of Mike’s crops of Einstein a variety that obviously does very well on the farm.  Mike’s attention to detail; spending time in the field, the rotation, timeliness of application, forward planning, passion and the love of growing crops all contribute towards a very productive farm with some of the best crops I have seen on this trip.  It was great to finally meet Mike and learn about his farming philosophy, aims and objectives and to see what I can take home to increase not just our wheat crop performance but arable cropping in it’s entirety.

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