January 19, 2000 | By: Ellen Brightwell

With Kentucky ranked 18th in the nation in wheat production, research to help producers increase the bottom line is a major thrust of the College of Agriculture at the University of Kentucky. Extension specialists shared the results of long-term and new wheat research projects at a recent educational program in Bowling Green.

"In one tillage-cropping system project, we wanted to know if planting no-till wheat or conventional wheat would affect yields of no-till corn and soybeans in a corn, wheat, and double-cropped soybean rotation," said Lloyd Murdock, Extension agronomist at the Research and Education Center in Princeton. "Results of this seven-year study showed that planting wheat no-till had a positive impact on yields with corn up eight percent and soybean up three percent. No-till wheat yields were five percent lower than the conventionally planted wheat."

"The higher no-till corn and soybean yields more than compensated for lower yields from the no-till wheat," added Jim Herbek, Extension agronomist at the REC. "Taking lower wheat yields into account, farmer profits would have increased $18 per acre annually from the higher corn and soybean yields. We attribute the improved yields to increased soil moisture as a result of planting into more crop residue cover and to improved soil structure with this rotation."

Management can mean the difference between profit and loss in a tough crop year like 1998, according to Carl Dillon, agricultural economist, who tracked producers participating in the Kentucky Farm Business Management Program.

"The top third producers with the highest net income received an average of $2.82 per bushel for their crop, while the bottom third averaged $2.27 per bushel," Dillon said. "Differences in their expenses largely explain the variation in net income of the top third and bottom third of producers. The producer group with a higher net income had $108 less per acre in out-of-pocket expenses, such as fertilizer, seed and herbicides. These producers also had lower machinery repair costs and depreciation."

Dillon said producers seeking opportunities to reduce costs or "If you're trying to reduce costs, be sure the lower crop value (lower yields times market price) doesn't outweigh your cost savings," increase net income should always evaluate the economics of these management practices.

he said. "And, if you're looking at ways to increase yields, be sure the practices you employ to boost yields don't wind up costing you more than the higher crop value."

Most Kentucky producers plant no-till wheat behind corn. Since many producers also use intensive wheat management, stand establishment is important to profitability. So a two-year research project focused on stand establishment using two popular no-till drills for wheat behind corn. Single and double disk opener drills were used for research plots on six different fields in western Kentucky. To check the effects of these drills on stand establishment and thus yields, researchers measured head counts, fall stands and seeding depth.

"We found that there was no significant difference on stand establishment between using the single or double disk opener drills," said Sam McNeill, Extension agricultural engineer at the REC. "For optimum stand establishment when operating no-till drills in heavy crop residue, calibrate the drill using three to five seed tubes; check seeding depth at 10 locations during the first pass; adjust ground speed according to field conditions to assist residue flow through the drill and achieve adequate depth control; and run the drill at an angle to rows of the previous crop."

The Wheat Science Group has published a "Research Report for 1998-99" that covers a variety of research projects on no-till wheat production. The WSG also has published "A Comprehensive Guide to Wheat Management in Kentucky." These publications are available from Dottie Call, WSG coordinator, Research and Education Center, P.O. Box 469, Princeton, KY 42445-0469.

The WSG is an interdepartmental group from the UK College of Agriculture that conducts research projects and other educational events to help Kentucky wheat producers increase profitability.

In addition to state and federal funding, the Kentucky Small Grain Growers Association contributed financial support for some of these wheat research projects.


Dottie Call, Lloyd Murdock, Jim Herbek, Sam McNeill (270) 365-7541, Ext. 234, 207, 205, 213 Carl Dillon (606) 257-3267