March 30, 2018
Advice from the field: Agronomist Grant Mehring shares management best practices
Every season, no matter if you’re planting winter or spring wheat, yield is at the top of your mind. It guides your decisions and processes, and those best practices are passed down from farmer to farmer, from farmers to agronomists or vice versa.
Agronomists like Fargo’s Grant Mehring, a technical product manager for WestBred® wheat, understand that yield drives growers, but he also grasps the complex science behind what drives yield with a Ph.D.-level understanding of the biology behind what makes your wheat grow.
We caught up with Grant to talk about his academic background calculating the science behind the best management practices and what you can do maximize your yield potential this season.
From the Classroom to the Field
Mehring spent his whole life in Fargo, North Dakota, attending Jamestown College roughly 90 miles west of town.
“My dad grew up on a farm,” Grant said in an interview with The Tiller. “But I didn’t set out for a career in agronomy. I was more interested in science, in biology.”
While he didn’t set out for it, agronomy found him in graduate school at North Dakota State University, where he earned a masters and a Ph.D. in agronomy and where he also served as a faculty member.
“My dissertation, interestingly enough, was on an optimal seeding rate in wheat,” Grant said.
Leaving the classroom behind him, he began to use his expertise to help farmers achieve their yield goals for WestBred wheat in 2016.
Yield, Yield, Yield
“If I’m a farmer, the three ways I make yield are through my seeding rate, the size of my spike and the size of my seed,” Grant said.
Practice, weather and luck dictate which of those three make the most impact in your yield, according to Grant, but management practices are little steps that can also have a substantial impact.
“Management options also can help a yield do that much better,” Grant said. Grant pointed to four concepts — seeding rate, variety selection, planting date and nitrogen management — as high-level considerations to be made.
“But take variety,” Grant explained. “Each variety is so different and has so many different traits that you need to find the one that reacts the very best to your soil.
“All of those considerations are extremely important.”
The Impact of Agronomic Advice
When pressed for what’s the one bit of advice that he’d give to each farmer year in and year out, he replied with two simple words: “Plant early.”
While he cautioned that early planting may not be an option due to weather conditions, he backed his succinct recommendation with science-backed reasoning. “Wheat is a cool-season grass, unlike corn. Corn? The hotter the better! But with wheat, when you plant early and the wheat can enjoy the cool temperatures and grow there, it’s always better.”
Grant said the adaptability of wheat can be perceived as both a benefit and a hindrance. “It’s a very adaptable crop, there’s a ton of what we call plasticity in the crop. A lot of people think it’s hard to screw wheat up,” Grant said, while also pointing out that “wheat can be a crop with narrow margins.”
Grant pointed to the agronomic advice he and other agronomists at WestBred wheat provide as tips that don’t just take a yield from good to great, but can save a season.
“But with the tools and practices and advice that we at WestBred give our growers and seed suppliers, you can see gains in yield potential,” Grant pointed out.
“That can be the difference between ending up in the black or in the red.”