Wheat field photo

MT. VERNON, Ill. — If wheat growers want good quality, shoot for high yields.

That is a piece of advice given by Carl Schwinke, vice president of grain supply at Siemer Milling. Schwinke told growers at the 2018 Double-Cropping Conference that yield and quality often go hand in hand.

“If you do high production, there’s a very good chance you’re going to get the quality that we need,” he said. “But I know the opposite is true. If you have low production, it’s not going to be very good quality. It’s going to be small, shriveled kernels. You want the production, we want the quality.”

Like other millers, the Teutopolis, Illinois-based Siemer covets regionally grown, high-quality grain. And thanks to advances over the years, they are seeing more of it. There are number of reasons, among them improved genetics and the availability of effective fungicides.

Siemer processes 25 million bushels annually at its three locations in Illinois, Kentucky and Indiana. The company pays premiums of 35 to 50 cents on good-quality wheat.

“You can go broke using average crop prices,” Schwinke said. “If you’re raising wheat, it’s not a very profitable crop. If you’re raising food-grade, mill-quality, high-value wheat, there is a market. We’re not interested in buying wheat from you and discounting it. We’re interested in you raising high-quality food crop, and as much of it as you can.”

Breeding has produced varieties with higher resistance against disease such as head scab, which historically has been a yield-killer in southern Illinois. Today, farmers aren’t forced to sacrifice quantity for quality.

“Is there any yield drag to scab resistance? The answer is no,” Schwinke said. “There was a time we did have it. The genetics are getting better. We are finding resistant varieties that will preserve the yield.”

The advent of fungicides has also provided growers with another weapon.

“In 2002 we didn’t have fungicides. We had Tilt, and that’s all we had, and it wasn’t very good,” Schwinke said. Folicur improved on that, followed by a new generation of triazoles and now another generation of Syngenta’s Miravis Ace.

“We welcome all competitors to that marketplace,” Schwinke said.

Disease still affects quality.

“It won’t solve the problem with scab, but if it takes it down from 7 to 3, that’s a positive,” Schwinke said.

Harvest timing is another management decision that can improve wheat quality.

“That’s the thing that has changed in the past 15 to 20 years. The varieties have gotten earlier, they’re more productive, they’re yielding better, they have more disease resistance,” Schwinke said. “And we’re coupling that with early harvesting to preserve the quality.

“Early harvest can be done. Wheat is physiologically mature at 30 percent. It doesn’t mean every kernel on every head is mature at that point. But it’s just going through the dry-down phase. We know that we can harvest wheat at 20 percent. That helps preserve the quality, it reduces sprouting and reduces a lot of problems. If you have your own drying system, there’s a point where you’d rather have that wheat in the bin than out in the field.”

He encourages farmers who have abandoned wheat or have never planted to consider growing it in a double-crop system with soybeans.

“If you haven’t raised wheat in 20 years, things have changed,” he said.

Nat Williams is Southern Illinois field editor, writing for Illinois Farmer Today, Iowa Farmer Today and Missouri Farmer Today.