Sustainability Report: Turkey Red Wheat vs Conventional Wheat and America's Great Plains

Posted by Ken Klemm, Partner on 10/3/2016 to News
Sustainability Report: Turkey Red Wheat vs Conventional Wheat and America's Great Plains
Yesterday we did a brief fall tour of both outfits cover crops, grasslands, livestock and other things of interest. I had promised last year to post results of our Turkey Red Wheat (TRW) planting. We took a little time with the back hoe and dug up some TRW and some conventional wheat (CW) that I had purposely left un-harvested - both in the same soil type and just across a ranch road. Yesterday we learned that I should have dug these up in July instead of late September as the roots had largely already decayed. Nevertheless, we did notice that the few roots we did see on the conventional wheat reached down about 4-6" where as the TRW were down about 8-12".

We probed the soil and found that the conventional wheat ground had more deep soil moisture. These observations, coupled with the growing season observations indicate that, yes, TRW does have a much deeper root system and is more effective at using deep soil moisture and likely bringing up those nutrients as well. It also indicates that TRW uses more moisture to sustain the almost double vegetative mass above ground compared to the CW. Surprise - surprise, you don't get something for nothing!

We also noticed a HUGE difference in how the straw had degraded since July harvest. The TRW is largely decomposed already whereas the CW is still mostly upright and intact. (See post with pictures) My conclusions thus far are that TRW is better at shading out weeds, will mine soil moisture/nutrients from deeper regions, will feed soil microbes better due to the greater root mass, and will provide more usable (from a microbe perspective) straw. If a farmer plans to fertilize and go for maximum yield then the CW is the way to go. The straw is indeed designed to hold greater head weight and the roots appear to be better suited to staying in the upper regions of the soil where farmer-added nutrients are applied. Weed pressure will be greater in the CW than the TRW due to the greater amount of sun that reaches the ground during the growing season. TRW is better if you plan to build soil nutrients through cover cropping/grazing as the roots are more aggressive scavengers and will pump more carbon down deeper. Weeds will be shaded out better.

Our 2015 yields were slightly less ~38/bu/ac. for TRW vs. ~40/b/ac. for the CW. Of course our CW yield was poor compared to area averages for the year I suspect due to the fact that we applied no fertilizer or herbicide. Wrap-up: Plant TRW if you don't want to use herbicide or fertilizer and like the option of having a lot more to graze if the grain markets are not sure. Expect poorer grain yields but lower input costs. TRW seems to be a much better soil feeder and as such, can be grown with little to no inputs other than cover-crops and livestock. If the grain markets are high than CW, along with fertilizer and likely herbicide, is the better way to go. CW will not build the soil as well or give weed suppression but will make greater profit - grain markets permitting. FYI I have saved some TRW seed and can let some go if anyone is interested. I am not planting any wheat this year as the markets have given a clear signal that the world needs no more wheat right now. All our plantings are geared to cover-crops and the grazing of them to monetize our farm ground.