Three-peat: Wheat farmer wins national yield contest

Phillip Gross, with the Warden Hutterian Brethren in Warden, Wash., has won the national wheat yield contest for the third straight year.

Phillip Gross and the Warden Hutterian Brethren topped the National Wheat Foundation’s annual wheat yield contest for the third time since the contest began three years ago, topping 200 bushels per acre for the first time.

Gross represents the Warden Hutterians with his entry. His irrigated winter wheat yielded 202.5 bushels per acre.

The group planted the Limagrain Cereal Seeds hard red winter wheat variety LCS Jet.

Gross said the group tried to address fertility issues on the crop, keeping the plants healthy and never wanting.

“It was a little surprising, since we didn’t quite have the tillers, the head counts, that we were shooting for, but the kernel size was very large and nice, so it made up for some stuff that wasn’t there,” he told the Capital Press.

The group wants to increase the farm’s efficiency and overall yield average, trying to get more production out of the same costs, Gross said.

“You never know what’s going to happen, what the weather’s going to throw at you,” he said. “All you can do is try. It’s all up to the good Lord to send favorable weather, and we just have to do our part and be good stewards.”

Last year, Pacific Northwest wheat groups encouraged the foundation to set minimum quality benchmarks for the contest, which was already adding a quality requirement.

Glen Squires, CEO of the Washington Grain Commission, said the contest requires wheat to be No. 2 grade or better. It’s a start, he said, but it’s “clearly not a definitive component of quality.”

The Northwest groups want milling and baking characteristics considered, Squires said.

“For example, if there’s a hard red spring, it ought to make a loaf of bread,” he said. “If a variety can’t do that, it ought to kick it out.”

NAWG is making progress, Squire said.

“I think the quality aspect of it is great, because it really encourages growers to try to maintain premium varieties and high end-use milling qualities,” Gross said. “I think it’s a great addition to the contest.”

The foundation is a nine-member board of directors managed by staff members of the National Association of Wheat Growers.

Eighty-two growers from 23 states entered the competition this year, according to NAWG. The contest received 318 total entries.

Larry Carroll of Morrow County, Ore., placed first in irrigated spring wheat with a yield of 158.93 bushels per acre.

Jon Wert of Hettinger County, N.D., placed first in dryland spring wheat with a yield of 103.98 bushels per acre.

Ken Horton of Kearny County, Kan., placed first in irrigated winter wheat with a yield of 111.28 bushels per acre.

R&K Farms of Pine Bluffs, Wyo., placed first in dryland winter wheat with a yield of 124.46 bushels per acre.

National winners are selected by the percentage increase their yield exceeds the most recent five-year county average determined by USDA.

National winners will be recognized during a reception at the 2019 Commodity Classic, Feb. 28-March 2 in Orlando, Fla.

Official rules for the 2019 contest will be available by Jan. 1.

Gross said future contest submissions depend on how the year goes.

“Actually, competition is heating up,” he said. “There were some entries this year that were really close. I think the spirit of competition is encouraging people to try even harder. They’re not far behind any more, let’s put it that way.”

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