November 20, 2018

Advice from the field: TPM John Fenderson shares management best practices to adopt in 2019


With 2018 wrapping up, it’s time to look back at the successes and challenges of the past year. John Fenderson, WestBred wheat technical product manager for the southern region, recaps some top-performing varieties from 2018 as well as some valuable advice for wheat farmers for next year.

The Tiller: With 2018 wrapping up, what were some things you noticed this year?

John: Well, every year is different and this one was no different. We were very dry over most of the south plains so yields in general were much lower. Both Oklahoma and Texas harvested one of the smallest wheat crops in many years due to low yields and reduced planted and harvested acres. It has been a difficult trek for wheat growers due to the low prices, but yields have been very good in general until the 2018 harvest year. Given the lower yields, wheat acres continue to stay flat to slightly up.

TT: How did varieties perform overall?  

John: The top varieties did well again comparatively, but yields were down substantially from 2016 and 2017. WB4269 and WB4515 were the real shining stars this year.

TT: What were some of the challenges?  

John: Drought was huge in 2018. But, unlike the previous four to five years, spring weather was not good for grain filling. Dry and hot weather toward the end of the season really flipped the performance of a lot of varieties. Late-maturing varieties have been doing very well, but earlier maturities tended to be better in 2018 because the late heat did not affect them as much as the later-maturing varieties. WB-Grainfield has been a top and consistent performer for several years, but it dropped off due to the tough later conditions. WB4515 and WB4269 tended to handle the heat and dried off better than other varieties, while varieties like WB4303 seemed to finish before the later heat got to them.

TT: Looking forward to 2019, what are you excited about/looking forward to?

John: Well, at this time the best thing is the tremendous fall moisture we have received. And in some cases it has been too much, but it is so much better than last year that I’m not complaining. So, the opportunity to have good production is probably there. However, high moisture and disease tend to go hand in hand so we will have to keep our eye on the foliar diseases.  

TT: Any new varieties that you are excited to try?  

John: WB4699 and WB4792 are both new, outstanding varieties that bring high yield to southern plains producers. Seed is only available to seed growers this year, but we are always anxious to see the new lines grown on a large scale compared to small plots and strips during testing. Both of these lines have been our best lines for the past three years as experimental lines. I’m really anxious to see them in the field.   

TT: Do you have any words of wisdom for wheat farmers?

John: The big thing right now is fertility issues brought on by the wet weather and late planting. Late planting means less fall growth and less tillers with less root development. Combine that with wet conditions that either leached nitrogen or denitrification due to saturated soils, many young wheat plants are now facing a nitrogen deficiency. If that is the case, it may be beneficial to apply a portion of their top-dress nitrogen now and the remainder in the spring. I would not apply too much now because a lot of soil is saturated and a big rain could result in run-off, denitrification or leaching.

TT: What are things to keep in mind for the coming year or two?

John: Scout your fields and don’t get caught off guard. Insects, weeds and diseases always are a problem at some level! Hot, cold, wet or dry, there are always pest issues. Test soils! Know what’s in your soil and what is needed or not needed. Both will save money or increase efficiency. Last but not least, do a post-harvest review. Look at what you did and see how it worked or didn’t work and evaluate why. Not thoroughly evaluating your production practices at the end of the year will be your Waterloo.

TT: Following up with your Tiller post from earlier this year, you said that many wheat farmers who embrace change are having record yields. What contributes to those record yields? How can other farmers follow suit?

John: Selecting the proper genetics; planting at the proper time at the proper rate; protecting the yield potential of that variety (it’s always the highest when it’s still in the bag); supplying nutrients at the right time and place; and managing diseases and insects with fungicides, insecticides and/or genetic tolerance all contribute to achieving record yields. Soil testing is paramount! Especially in areas that have issues with low soil pH. Take advantage of genetic resistance or tolerance to diseases that cannot be controlled or at least controlled well with a pesticide application like mosaic diseases and head scab.

Changing the mindset is the most important thing. Just because you have not had outstanding yields does not mean that you can’t. But if you do not change your production practices and just depend on luck, well, the results will likely remain the same. Luck is generally made — it does not fall in your lap. Assuming that you can’t make higher yields has to change. Work with top producers, ag professionals and extension specialists, and study the internet, periodicals or other resources. But, don’t try to do too much at once. Take some baby steps and find out what fits your management style and what works on your farm. Work with wheat experts and make sure they understand what your history has been and what you have done in the past. There are likely a lot of low-hanging fruit that is available with only minor changes in practice.

Want more agronomic advice? Check out our agronomy library for management tips and product recommendations from our agronomy experts!

What are some things you are looking forward to next year? Let us know on WestBred® wheat’s Facebook or Twitter, or by emailing