How should we set benchmark yields in the future?

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Certified weighbridge versus yield monitor

Most agronomists and growers felt that certified weighbridges would create more convincing benchmarks, with on-farm weighbridges considered acceptable if they have a current calibration certificate. Any competition requires a level of honesty on the part of participants, and it was pleasing that several people contacted in relation to reputed high yields did not want me to report on their paddocks, as they were not 100 per cent sure about aspects of the yield verification.

Should pre-registration be required?

Some growers and agronomists felt that paddocks ought to be pre-registered before harvest. This could occur through a local crop competition, or by asking a qualified independent person to take crop assessments. Tiller counts, grain counts and a grain sample (for grain size) could then be used along with a grain sample to help understand how the crop achieved its yield. Agronomic data could be recorded at the same time when the growers’ recollection of the crop is fresh, before the busy harvest period begins.

On the other hand, several growers shared stories about entering the wrong, lower-yielding paddock in crop competitions, and there are scientific reasons why crops that appear to be the heaviest or thickest might not always be the best-yielding. Allowing growers with high-quality records to enter crops after harvest might be more likely to capture genuine yield benchmarks.

Publicity of crops and agronomic data

Entrants in a national benchmarking exercise would ideally be willing to be named and share their agronomic details. This could help other growers learn from their experience. Obviously, chemical application to the field would need to meet legislative requirements.

Crop area categories

Crop area categories could be used to allow farmers of any scale to participate in national yield benchmarking. Harvesting is a busy time, so for large farms it would be much simpler to submit paddock records rather than having to isolate and keep records for a small area within a paddock. Growers could then benchmark their yields against growers of a similar scale.

National yield benchmarking should not affect local crop competitions, which should continue to operate as normal. However, the winners of these competitions could also enter paddock yield records in one of the categories below for national benchmarking.

  • Five to 10ha ‘spot’ yields: the harvested area and harvesting operation should be verified by an independent industry professional, because measuring a ‘spot yield’ will not naturally fit into farm record-keeping procedures and the potential for mistakes is larger. The independent verifier could be someone who works across a range of local farms, not specifically employed or contracted by the enterprise, such as an experienced reseller agronomist.
  • Whole paddock categories: paddock size categories could be 10 to 40ha, 40 to 100ha, and 100-plus hectares. Whole-paddock yields would still require certified weighbridge data, but would not require an independent observer on the day of harvest as long as complete weighbridge records exist and paddock area can be verified from mapping software.

CSIRO Agriculture and Food grains researcher Dr Allan Peake is on a quest to find the record wheat yield. Do you have information to help him? See more: 'Wheat records – time to keep score'