Researchers Talk Small Grains at Field Day

6/15/2013 7:00 AM
By Amy Halloran New York Correspondent

AURORA, N.Y. — Cornell Cooperative Extension hosted a small grains management field day at the Robert Musgrave Research Farm on June 6.

The rainy day kept the nearly 50 attendees and speakers indoors on hay bales, but minus the tour, the annual meeting kept to its agenda.

Bill Cox, professor of crop and soil science at Cornell, gave an overview of nearly 30 years of weather data to make predictions for how crops might develop the rest of this year.

Cox reported that farmers planting wheat after soybeans got their wheat in a little late last year, putting it at a disadvantage. The very late greenup seen this year, he said, is the result of a cold March.

Based on the data he’s accumulated, Cox said the wet weather and low temperatures of April are not a good sign for wheat yields. However, the intensive management practices a lot of farmers are adopting might mitigate the effect of weather. He’s predicting 60-bushels-an-acre state average this year.

“But I love eating crow on the Red Sox, wheat yields and soy yields,” Cox said. “So I hope I’m wrong.”

Russ Hahn, associate professor of crop and soil sciences at Cornell, spoke about weed management, saying that the annual grass herbicide, Prowl, needs to go on early. He suggested that it be applied right after planting and once after the crop comes up. Hahn also alerted wheat producers to the new availability of Osprey herbicide.

Cornell’s Gary Bergstrom, professor in the department of plant pathology and plant-microbe biology, spoke about disease management, emphasizing the continuing importance of long-term crop rotations in New York.

“Take all and other soil-borne diseases are a problem in states in the West that grow wheat every year or every other year,” he said, noting that some New York farms are cutting in years between rotations. “The first line of defense is a good rotation. The second is planting wheat varieties that have resistance to diseases prevalent in your area.”

Bergstrom told people that the revised efficacy chart for the use of fungicides is posted on the field crop program’s website, Other resources, such as cellphone alerts for interpretation of local conditions pertinent to timing of fungicide application, and a Fusarium prediction risk tool, are also available through the website.

The timing for protecting wheat from Fusarium is tight, he said; application should happen during flowering. Although heavy rains prevented the field-day audience from viewing the integrated management trials happening on the farm, Bergstrom shared data from past growing seasons and emphasized that this method is proving really useful.

Mark Sorrells, professor of plant breeding and genetics, discussed small grain varieties and availability of seed. Many members of his team were present and he specifically credited David Benscher and James Tanaka for their work.

Sorrells referred to data from several charts summarizing conventional trials of soft white and soft red winter wheats, spring oats, spring barley and wheats, and organic winter and spring wheat trials.

He noted that there has been a reduction in acreage in white wheats. Medina is a soft-white winter variety with excellent test weights, good lodging resistance and resistance to soil-borne diseases and Fusarium head blight. Many varieties of red wheats are being developed that suit this region, including Otsego and Emmit. In oats, he pointed to Corral, developed with the University of Illinois and released a few years ago, as a top yielding type. In organic trials, Sorrells said lines developed in North Carolina are doing well in New York.

Mike Stanyard of Cornell Cooperative Extension, spoke about the trend toward intensive management in winter wheat production and invited farmer Donn Branton up to discuss his experience.

Branton farms corn, soybeans, alfalfa and processing vegetables on 1,300 acres in Le Roy, Genesee County, which is in the western part of the state. About 245 of those acres are wheat. He reports a 5-year average of 102 bushels an acre.

Branton first learned of these practices when Phil Needham, owner of Needham Ag Technologies in Calhoun, Ky., gave a presentation at a no-till conference in Cincinnati.

“I got his book and started to use some of his techniques,” Branton said. “I saw positive results right from the start.”

Branton’s experience is inspiring others to get more regimented in applying intensive management practices. Rick and Dick Padgham of Padebrook Farms in Farmington, Ontario County, have also been using some of Needham’s suggestions. This year they are following the regime and the wheat, they say, looks good.

Ears perked up as Sorrells, Stanyard, Bergstrom and others discussed growing malting barley.

“The farm brewery bill has created great excitement about malting barley,” said Sorrells. “The New York State Legislature saw the opportunity to develop an industry, but they didn’t foresee the lack of information on malting varieties in New York.”

Barley hasn’t been grown for malting in New York for decades. Sorrells managed to get funding for a small test of winter barleys and hybrid ryes and hopes to have data on malting quality this fall.

“Malting barley is extremely different from feed barley,” said Sorrells. “They are handled and used like two different crops. Don’t start growing malting barley until you have a relationship with a buyer.”

Winter varieties can produce twice the yield of spring varieties depending on cropping systems. He stressed the need to work with malthouses to make sure barley is being grown under the right conditions, because high protein is undesirable for making beer.

Harvesting is another significant concern, as barley needs to be protected from weathering. Sorrells said to harvest it at relatively high moisture and use little or no heat to dry it because if the grain is killed, it won’t germinate in the malting process. Adjusting the concaves on the combine, he said, will help protect the barley from damage, which would also interfere with malting.

Bergstrom mentioned the need for testing capabilities in the region. Major brewers perform tests in-house and Cornell will send material to a USDA facility in Madison, Wisc., but having more test facilities geared to analyzing malting varieties will be key for the growth of the industry.

Other attendees had updates and comments, too. Francoise LaChance from Star of the West Flour Mill in Churchville, N.Y., spoke about how the gluten-free trend hasn’t affected production, which is mostly soft wheats.

“If somebody’s going to cheat on their diet, they’re going to have cookies and cakes,” LaChance said.

One concern among the mill’s customers though is genetically-engineered wheat. Discovery of genetically-engineered wheat in Oregon has prompted lots of questions and concerns. The mill is telling clients in a letter that there’s no genetically-engineered wheat in their flour or in the state.

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