A 103.98-bushels-per-acre spring wheat yield and a 2018 National Wheat Yield Contest first- place trophy would typically be considered a feat worth hanging your hat on, but Jon Wert, of New England, said he isn't even close to reaching his yield goals.
"My winning field has averaged over 100 bushels in three of the last nine years," Wert said. "It's nothing to sneeze at, but I know that I could do better than that."
The contest offers national wheat growers the opportunity to compete with their peers across the United States and learn from each other many of the innovative techniques used to improve wheat productivity on their farms.
The annual contest features two primary competition categories of winter wheat and spring wheat, plus two subcategories of dryland and irrigated.
From there, participants are to select a two and a half acre plot of land to be designated as the competitive area. Once grown, a grain sample from each contest entry is required to determine the quality of wheat produced under high yield management practices in the wheat yield contest, and an official weight is recorded.
Wert's farm is located about 5 miles northeast of New England, not ordinarily analogous with high yields of wheat. When asked what the secret was to his resounding win at the competition, Wert said it was a combination of good luck, nice weather and a few critical decisions.
"We were lucky with weather this year and had above-average rainfall in June, but actually ran out of moisture in July," he said. "I didn't even really treat that competition plot any different than any of my other acres, other than doing a fungicide application three times."
Wert, who has been farming for 25 years and had previously entered the competition in 2016 with no success, said things were looking good this year.
"I figured I got a shot," he said. "I used Limagrain LCS Trigger on a long-term no-till plot because it helps with the soil retention for organic matter."
Speaking to the specifics of his soil composition, Wert said that the competition field he chose was ideal.
"This field has an 82 productivity index and it has 4.7 organic matter, so all those factors and the weather really helped out," he said. "These other guys were putting 200 to 300 pounds of nitrogen to try and push the yield, and had I done something similar I know I could have done better."
As for what it means to be recognized as a national champion spring wheat yield farmer, Wert said he was proud.
"It was great to represent North Dakota and get an award like that, especially in southwestern North Dakota because people don't typically associate high yields with this part of the state," he said. "I was fortunate that I was able to beat out people in the valley and Minnesota from right here in New England."
The National Wheat Foundation, who hosts the competition, was established by the industry to serve as the national center for wheat research, education and outreach. Serving their mission, the foundation works to advance the wheat industry through strategic research, education, outreach collaborations and annual competitions, each guided by core values of grower centeredness, integrity, honesty and trustworthiness.
The Foundation is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization incorporated and headquartered in Washington, D.C., governed by a nine-member board of directors and managed by staff of the National Association of Wheat Growers.