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Stacking Agronomic Practices to Maximize Wheat Yield

27 June 2013
Alberta Agriculture, Food and Rural Development

CANADA - A new research study, which aims to determine the synergistic benefits of stacking agronomic practices, could increase yields and profitability for Alberta wheat producers.

“The research is investigating three agronomic practices: supplemental nitrogen fertilizer, plant growth regulators (PGRs) and foliar fungicide applications,” says Sheri Strydhorst, agronomic research scientist, Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development (ARD), Barrhead.

“There have been a number of studies looking at these individual practices, but there is very limited research testing their combined, and potentially synergistic, effects,” she says. “For example, supplemental nitrogen fertilizer and foliar fungicides may each individually increase yields by five per cent, but when used in combination with PGRs is it possible to achieve a 20 per cent yield increase?”

Nitrogen fertilizer applications can increase yield and profitability. Supplemental nitrogen fertilizer applied at the time of maximum crop uptake can maximize yield potential, while late season applications tend to only increase grain protein content. High nitrogen fertilizer rates can cause crop lodging. The research study will investigate the yield benefits associated with applying urea ammonium nitrate at multiple rates with and without a urease inhibitor, during the time of maximum crop uptake.

“There is a lot of interest in using PGRs in intensive management systems,” says Strydhorst. “If applied at the correct growth stage and under ideal conditions, PGRs will produce shorter (2 to 15 cm shorter), thicker and stronger stems that improve lodging resistance. Although occasional yield increases have been reported, the main purpose of PGRs is to reduce lodging associated with high input production, reduce combine harvest time, and reduce straw production. The research project will study the effects of two PGRs (Cycocel and Ethrel) in high input production systems.”

Foliar fungicides must protect the upper canopy leaves to permit a longer period for grain fill, which leads to higher yields, and increased kernel weight. The research project will study the effects of single foliar fungicide applications made at the time of flag leaf extension and a second foliar fungicide application made 14 days later when the wheat head is half emerged.

The final component of this study is to examine genetic responses to agronomic practices.

“International research has shown that cultivars respond differently to supplemental nitrogen fertilizer, PGRs and foliar fungicides,” explains Strydhorst. “This study will investigate how current Alberta wheat varieties respond to intensive agronomic management and if some cultivars are more responsive than others.”

There are 48 treatments in this study to examine the synergistic benefits of stacking two and/or three of these agronomic practices.

“In addition to assessing yield benefits, a basic economic analysis will be conducted to determine the return on investment associated with individual and stacked agronomic practices,” says Strydhorst. “One of the study’s guiding principles is to ensure that the increased wheat yields will cover the additional input costs associated with these intensive management systems.”

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