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New Zealand once again holds the wheat world record!

What a fantastic achievement by Eric and Maxine Watson to grow the world record wheat crop yielding 16.791 t/ha over a harvested area of 11.9 ha and bringing the record back home to New Zealand made it that little bit better!

Bayer is proud to have been involved in the world record from the start but there should be no mistake, without the skills and dedication of the Watson farming family the world record would still reside in the United Kingdom.

This world record attempt sparked in the minds of Eric and Maxine during late summer 2015. The news was circulating in Canterbury that Warren Darling, farming near to Timaru, looked set to be awarded the barley yield world record.

David Weith, Regional Technical Manager for Bayer in Mid-South Canterbury, had been involved with Warren’s attempt and casually suggested to Eric that perhaps he should attempt the wheat record. Previous high wheat yields on the Watson’s farm had showed that getting the world record was possible.

So, with the wheat world record of 15.7 t/ha sitting in Southland, Bayer helped Eric and Maxine submit their first attempt. In March 2015 planting got underway with a crop of Starfire winter wheat.

All progressed smoothly but during the course of the attempt news emerged that Rodney Smith, an English farmer, had grown a wheat crop yielding 16.519 t/ha and been awarded a new world record.

Eric and Maxine’s 2015/16 crop was harvested in February 2016 and delivered a very impressive yield of 15.5 t/ha. A great yield, but not a world record, and the Watsons and Bayer knew that together they could do better!

In March 2016 a new attempt was submitted, again by Bayer, on Eric and Maxine’s behalf. The attempt was a strong team effort between the Watsons, Bayer, Yara, Davis Ogilvy and SGS during the season, and with a large number of other valuable participants closer to harvest.

For the crop to deliver its full yield potential, six key factors were identified:

Eric and Maxine Watson World Record Wheat Bayer
  1. careful preparation of the seedbed and with crop planting
  2. early weed removal
  3. monitoring and understanding the crops macro and micro nutrient requirements
  4. effective aphid control to prevent infection by Barley Yellow Dwarf Virus (BYDV)
  5. effective crop management to ensure it didn’t lodge
  6. a need for robust fungicide programme to prevent disease attack and maintain healthy green leaves

For this attempt four paddocks were submitted using a range of varieties but in the end Oakley delivered. Oakley was planted at a moderate seed rate in mid-April into a carefully prepared seedbed which was firm, moist and which had minimal clods present.

Weeds compete for nutrients, water and energy in the form of sunlight and so they need to be removed from the start; if every day weeds are allowed to compete then yield is compromised.

Early weed removal was achieved by applying the pre-emergence herbicide Firebird the day after planting. Then in late autumn this was followed up with an application of the post-emergence, broad-spectrum herbicide, Othello OD. This herbicide programme did the trick and no further herbicides were required.

Throughout the season Yara maintained a comprehensive programme of nutrient testing which allowed any deficiencies to be identified and rectified. When the season was reviewed it transpired that this had only resulted in one additional trace element application and very pleasingly, the amount of nitrogen used was quite modest when measured as units of N / tonne of yield.

Bayer’s comprehensive series of fungicide support trials, which are located throughout New Zealand, pointed to an early Septoria leaf blotch threat (a trial in the lower North Island showed early and aggressive infection). All varieties within the attempt were treated with similar robust fungicide programmes incorporating Prosaro and Aviator Xpro. At appropriate growth stages the fungicides epoxiconazole and azoxystrobin were also incorporated.

Eric and Maxine Watson World Record Wheat Bayer

The Prosaro and Aviator Xpro programme delivered excellent control of Septoria leaf blotch, stripe and leaf rust and kept powdery mildew and tan spot out of the crop.

In mid-February, after a few nervous days during which the Bayer team studied revisions to the Guinness World Record processes and ensured all would be fully complied with, harvest took place on a glorious Canterbury day.

The event required a considerable number of people, each with a specific task, but the team worked together superbly, under the guidance of David Weith and Darcy Heron from Bayer, and harvest took place without incidence.

It doesn’t mean it went off without trepidation though. The team was very aware that while it is achievable to deliver very high yields off of small areas, with stories of 20+ tonne crops being legendary in Canterbury, including on the Watson’s farm, to deliver a world record yield across 11.9 hectares is special.

But Eric and Maxine did it. What a great feeling when the last load was weighed, the weighbridge dockets were tallied and the final result was shouted across the yard.

Then all that was left was to light the BBQ, pop the champagne corks and relax. But even while celebrating this fantastic achievement the conversation drifted to what we could do better next time!

Eric and Maxine Watson World Record Wheat Bayer