Precision key for record yield

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The world record holder for the highest average wheat yield puts his success down to clever practices and smart machines.

Precision key for record yield
Eric Watson with his Case IH Axial-Flow 250 Series combine used in the record-breaking yield


2020 has been a defining year so far – and there’s no exception in the world of wheat growing, with New Zealand farmer Eric Watson breaking his own Guinness World Record in February.

Based in Wakanui, in Canterbury in New Zealand’s South Island, Watson achieved the world’s highest average wheat yield, of 17.398 tonnes per hectare, harvested from 8.6353 ha at Paddock 15a on his farm.

Working with his wife Maxine, he set the previous record of 16.791 tonnes with feed wheat in 2017 on the same paddock.

Irrigated wheat yields in New Zealand average about 12 tonnes per hectare.

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Watson says part of the reason for his success was a series of productivity gains across multiple facets of his business, particularly through using tractor and combine harvest technology.

He harvested the crop using a Case IH Axial-Flow 250 Series combine harvester, complete with the Case IH AFS Harvest Command software system, which uses sensors and optimised harvester settings to conserve grain and improve its quality.

Sensors monitor air pressure on the sieves, warning of impending losses and allowing the combine to make adjustments before any grain is lost.

"That new automation; it’s quicker than the human," he says.

"We always think we can beat computers, but you can’t beat that. The Harvest Command system knows what to do before you even see it on the screen."

Like many arable farmers, Watson says he uses tracked equipment to maintain soil quality.

"I’ve stuck with tracks for years and I wouldn’t go away from them for cultivation because you get less compaction and you also get less slip," he says.

"With the Case IH Quadtrac you might run at 1 per cent but most of the time you’re running at zero. If you’re running a wheeled tractor at 10 per cent, if you’ve run 10 hours then you’ve lost an hour. And you’re also damaging soil structure by smearing it a bit."

Plus, Watson says, "If you’re using 80 litres of fuel an hour and you have to cultivate for an extra hour, well, that’s a lot of money."

This, plus other features including the Axial Flow mechanism in the harvester that reduces grain damage, goes a long way to ensuring impressive yields.

Smart Changes

Watson says he approached the 2020 Guinness record attempt in much the same fashion as his successful 2017 bid, albeit with a few key changes – born from working with Bayer’s New Zealand Crop Science team.

To break the record, Watson switched wheat variety to feed grain Kerrin, bred by KWS, and used herbicides and fungicides from Bayer, as well as taking their agronomy advice.

He also moved from solid urea to liquid, in order to improve spreading.

"That played a big part as well, especially to get that extra 600kg a hectare," he says.

"When you’re getting up to those high yield figures it’s hard to get a big figure like that."

Ever-modest, he quietly admits to being a bit blown away by his latest yield gain, but says he’s always monitoring and trying a few new things. 

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