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World record wheat insights from Phil Needham

A farmer from New Zealand set a new Guinness record

By Diego Flammini
Assistant Editor, North American Content

There’s a new global wheat king and his name is Eric Watson.

Along with his wife Maxine, Watson produced a yield of 249 bushels/acre from his 29-acre farm, breaking the previous record of 246 bushels per acre set by UK farmer Rod Smith in 2015. The Watsons farm near Ashburton, New Zealand.

Guinness World Records certified the achievement on Feb. 17.

For a better understanding of the intricacies involved in producing such a yield, caught up with wheat agronomist Phil Needham, who specializes in high-yielding wheat. (Farms): Is this kind of yield something farmers in Ontario could achieve?

Phil Needham (PH): I don’t think that much but there’s been some 160 bu/ac (wheat) in Ontario. I don’t think 250 bu/ac is possible but, if growers do a good job, they could see 150-bushel wheat. You’re asking a lot to go from 160 to 250.

Farms: Watson used a wheat variety called Oakley. What do you know about it?

PH: Oakley is a very popular, English-bred wheat variety. It’s a variety grown on the most number of acres in the United Kingdom. It’s a very popular high-yielding wheat variety.

According to KWS UK, Oakley’s characteristics include:

  • Resistance to Orange Wheat Blossom Midge,
  • Tolerance to chlorotoluron,
  • A moderate winter dormancy, and
  • The ability to suppress grass weeds, especially in difficult to control blackgrass situations.

L to R: Eric Watson and Phil Needham

Farms: What is it about Ashburton, New Zealand that makes it ideal for high-yielding wheat?

PH: Mr. Watson’s farm is about four hours north of Mike Solari’s farm. (Solari held the world wheat record in 2007 with a yield of 222 bu/ac. He broke his own record in 2010 with a 232 bu/ac yield). New Zealand and eastern England are both what I like to call the “Goldilocks Zone.”

They’re both in areas that produce very high wheat yields and have climates that are very conducive for high wheat yields. They both get adequate rainfall, and a long growing season. (Farmers) are planting wheat in March and harvesting in February so they almost have a full calendar growing season.

Farms: The farmer said he put 285 kg (628 lbs) of applied nitrogen to the crop and suggested that number is low. What are your thoughts?

PH: I believe he planted wheat after peas. Doing that would give you more residual nitrogen. When I visited Mike Solari in New Zealand in 2010, he did that too. Wheat after peas is an excellent entry crop. It can give you a nice seed bed and it’s just a nice environment to plant high yielding wheat into.