No-till is key to wheat production

No-till is key to wheat production

David Holubec and Paul Minzenmayer switched to no-till production techniques for wheat and rotation crops years ago and continue to fine tune operations to improve efficiency and profit potential. They discussed production techniques at the recent Big Country Wheat Conference in Abilene, Texas.

David Holubec and Paul Minzenmayer switched to no-till production techniques for wheat and rotation crops years ago and continue to fine tune operations to improve efficiency and profit potential.

They discussed production techniques at the recent Big Country Wheat Conference in Abilene, Texas.

Holubec, who farms near Melvin, Texas, switched to a reduced tillage system several years ago, always applies s nitrogen fertilizer at planting, soil tests to identify fertility needs, sprays disease-prone varieties, rotates with corn, and is meticulous about keeping fields free of weeds, especially wild oats.

Minzenmayer, of High Cotton Farms, Rowena, Texas, has been in no-till for ten years, is considering pre-plant nitrogen fertilization and plans to try variable rate fertilizer application. He rotates wheat and cotton. He’s also conscientious about weed control and sprays for diseases as necessary.

“We primarily grow wheat,” Holubec said. His corn rotation helps with weed control and limits soil-borne diseases.

“We also get in and out earlier with corn than we could with cotton,” he said, “and we can clean up after harvest with glyphosate.”

Corn and wheat may be subject to the same environmental threats, however. “If we get a freeze early in the spring it hurts corn and wheat. Both are vulnerable to hail damage, too,” he said. “This year, both crops seem to be good. And we’ve made corn for the last three years.”

He likes to be out of the fields as early in the fall as possible because he raises sheep and they lamb in October.

“We’ve had a ewe and lamb operation since 1983,” he said. “We graze wheat November, December, January and February and often put dry ewes on wheat stubble after harvest. They pick up a little green matter.”

Minzenmayer switched to no-till ten years ago and plants cotton into wheat stubble. It’s a sound rotation. “Cotton does better behind wheat than it does behind milo for us. We make an extra half bale of cotton per acre behind wheat.”

Rigid rotation schedule

He stays on a fairly rigid rotation schedule, so he plans to keep wheat acreage about the same in 2010. “We like to rotate away from cotton root rot,” he said. “I like to plant wheat two years and then cotton.”

Production demands for cotton and wheat sometimes overlap. “We’re planting cotton and combining wheat at the same time.”

They save time and energy with reduced tillage.

Holubec cut out a lot of trips across his fields by converting to no-till production. “We used to plow every time we got a sprinkle of rain,” he said. “Now, we just make three trips, once in the summer to plow the stubble, then we chisel and field cultivate in front of the planter.”

They always apply herbicides after wheat harvest.

Stubble fields typically lay out nearly a year before Minzenmayer plants cotton. He likes the organic matter wheat residue puts back in the soil. “By the time we plant cotton, not much straw is left, but I like to get as much organic matter as possible.”

New combines scatter straw better than older machines. “I like to keep all the straw on the field, just not in windrows.”

Holubec said routine soil testing is essential. “We have to know what we need,” he said. “I get fertilizer down in September or October. I like to do it early.”

He’s applied fertilizer before planting every year but one for the last 30 years. That one year followed a crop disaster and plants had used up very little of the soil nutrients. “Applying fertilizer in the fall is necessary to get wheat off to a good start,” he said.

Minzenmayer is thinking about making pre-plant fertilization a routine part of his operation. “I think we’ve been hurt by getting nitrogen out late,” he said. “Last year we yield mapped every field and our goal is to use variable rate fertilizer application.”

 Holubec said precision planting is critical. “A uniform stand is essential. Skips, misses and doubles hurt yield potential.”

Minzenmayer just bought a new John Deere planter to improve stands in stubble. “It handles trash well,” he said.

Holubec used to rely on only one variety but now grows several to spread risks. “I usually plant early, medium and late maturity wheat,” he said. This year he planted Doans, Tam 203, Tam 112, Jackpot, Coronado, Duster and Greer. “Greer is a new variety and has good potential,” Holubec said. “These new varieties are as good as or better than the old ones.”

They plant later for grain production than for grazing. Minzenmayer likes to plant wheat for grain in October and November but may start planting grazing wheat as early as late September.

“We were hurt by Hessian fly about 10 years ago,” he said. “That convinced everybody to wait until October to plant wheat for grain.”

Clean fields crucial

Clean fields are important.

“Wild oat has been trouble and grows l in ditches, corners and field borders,” Holubec said. “I leased a field two years ago that had a bad wild oat problem. We used two applications of Axial and cleaned it up. We have very few left.”

He’s particular about keeping fence borders free of wild oat and other weeds and uses a spray rig mounted on a four-wheeler to spray along fences. He might take out a row of wheat to kill weeds but figures he’ll lose no more than a-half acre over the farm. “It’s worth losing that to get rid of the weeds,” he said.

Minzenmayer also battles wild oat and has had good results with PowerFlex. “We put it out early but we get some residual activity,” he said.

Holubec likes “to wait as long as possible” to apply Axial, so he doesn’t have to make multiple applications for several flushes.

They both apply fungicide to varieties susceptible to rust diseases. “I sprayed Tam 112 and Coronado,” Holubec said. “The others were okay.”

He and Minzenmayer both used Tilt fungicide.

They have different marketing strategies.

Holubec has on-farm storage for wheat but said storing may not always be the best marketing option. “The elevator price at harvest was the best we had last year,” he said. “For 2010, it’s hard to predict.”

He said storage also comes with such disadvantages as time and labor to load and unload and to maintain the grain. “We also have maintenance costs like repairing wind damage. The initial expense can be high, too,” he said.

“A big advantage is that we don’t have to wait at the elevator.”

He also has the option of holding for a price increase if harvest-time offerings are too low. “I like to store it and then take calls and bids as the market improves.”

Minzenmayer likes to forward price a portion of his crop early. “We don’t like to contract more than two-thirds of it before harvest,” he said.

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