Washington farmer wins national wheat yield contest

Members of the Warden Hutterian Brethren harvest their wheat in July 2016 near Warden, Wash. Farmer Phillip Gross won the National Association of Wheat Growers' yield contest with a yield of 192.85 bushels per acre.

Capital Press

Phillip Gross knew he had a pretty good yield this year.

But he wasn’t expecting to win the National Association of Wheat Growers yield contest.

“I definitely thought there would be some other growers knocking on the door of 200 bushels,” Gross said.

Gross topped the award with 192.85 bushels per acre for irrigated wheat, 216 percent above the county average, according to NAWG.

Gross planted WestBred Keldin, a hard red winter wheat variety he’s raised for several years. Gross said that’s an unusual yield size. He credited a significant boost provided by cooler flowering weather than normal.

“This is the biggest yield we’ve had on record,” he said.

One entire field averaged 192 bushels. Gross suspects some parts of that field had even higher yields, but didn’t have it staked out or tested for yields.

Gross farms with the Warden Hutterian Brethren Farms near Warden, Wash. The community raises about 9,000 acres of irrigated wheat and 2,000 acres of dryland wheat.

“A lot of our yields are dependent upon water availability,” he said.

When the weather is warm, wheat takes a backseat to such as potatoes, peas or corn, Gross said.

“Wheat is a lot more flexible in that way— it allows you to use water elsewhere, and when you have some available later on, move it back again,” he said.

The majority of the farm’s acres are irrigated by the Odessa Subarea aquifer, which is declining. The farm is currently to install a pumping station south of its home base to replace aquifer water with water from the Columbia River.

“It definitely needs to happen,” Gross said. “It’s unsustainable, pulling the amount of water from the aquifer and expecting it to be there year after year.”

With river water, Gross expects to be able to draw bigger yields with better water that’s not so high in sodium,

Falling number affected some of the soft white wheat varieties the community grew, falling down to roughly 230 in the falling number test. Farmers are docked at elevators for wheat below 300. Some hard red winter wheat escaped unscathed, Gross said.

Stripe rust also affected some “gold standard” varieties that never had the problem before, Gross said.

“So the rust strains are mutating,” he said.

The price received varied throughout the farm, Gross said.

“This is another reason we’ve got to push our yields, to get above the break-even point,” he said.

NAWG will hold the yield contest again in 2017, the organization announced. Registration for fall wheat ends May 1 and spring wheat ends Aug. 1.

U.S. wheat yields averaged 52.6 bushels per acre, according to the USDA.

According to NAWG, the 14 national winners — in winter wheat dryland and irrigated and spring wheat dryland and irrigated categories — averaged a yield of 135 bushels per acre.

Gross plans to enter the yield contest again and push the threshold of all crops the community raises.

“First and foremost, you have to have a fundamental understanding of the crops you’re producing,” he said. “How the plant responds to different inputs and how to go about addressing issues on an as-needed basis as soon as you catch them.”

Recommended for you