Record crop in drought

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Canterbury’s drought has helped the region’s wheat growers produce a bumper crop.
Foundation for Arable Research chairperson and farmer David Birkett is in line to break the wheat yield world record and said he was aware of neighbouring farms which had produced yields larger than normal.
The world record, held by a farmer in the United Kingdom, sits at 16.5 tonnes per hectare, but Mr Birkett’s yield was estimated at 16.7t/ha.
‘‘Once we get all the measurements in, we will know, but there will probably be a little bit more than that.
‘‘Wheat is a deep rooted crop, so it’s pretty hardy and it’s able to retrieve water, so it probably likes a dry season and we have good moisture retention on the farm.’’
The farm, which has previously received an average of 640mm rain a year, received 540mm in 2014, 400mm last year and 270mm so far this year. Despite the dry conditions, just 120mm of irrigation was applied to the crop.
Mr Birkett also won the cup for first place in the feed wheat section in the ATS (Ashburton Trading Society) United Wheatgrowers Awards recently, for the second successive year.
All of farm’s wheat crop these days was feed wheat which was a high yield, but lower protein crop. Most of it was sold locally to chicken farmers. Some was supplied to dairy farms and for malting for craft beers, although he was having trouble selling it this season due to the high volume of wheat in the area.
There was no secret to growing a high-yielding wheat crop, he said.
‘‘Across New Zealand generally there has been an increase in yields, partly due to irrigation, but really it’s just about doing it well and getting the timings right and applying the nutrients when the crop needs it.
‘‘There was nothing special done to it (the wheat) – just the season was right and our timing with inputs was good.
‘‘The biggest challenge is the dry conditions and the biggest concern is the groundwater levels. If we don’t get any major recharge before spring, some of those irrigation wells will be under pressure.’’
The Birketts run a 10-crop to 12-crop rotation over about five years, with a mix of feed wheat, barley, small niche crops, processed peas and beans for Watties, clover and grass seeds for local farmers and vegetable seeds for European, Korean and American growers through South Pacific Seeds.