Soil Health Partnership Blog: Wheat sites expand, diversifying SHP program

Wheat sites expand, diversifying SHP program

By Maddy Rabenhorst and Keith Byerly on Thursday, 13 February, 2020

As the third largest cash crop in the US, wheat farmers have a major influence on our farm economy and our environment. That’s why the Soil Health Partnership partnered with the National Wheat Foundation, made possible by the generous support of General Mills, to establish three additional wheat-focused sites across Kansas and Minnesota for the 2020 growing season giving SHP a total of six wheat-focused sites in our network. This represents growers who have spring wheat or winter wheat as part of their farms’ crop rotation. These operations often have an extended cropping rotation, meaning it is typical for a crop to be planted every three to five years.

SHP is dedicated to understanding how grower’s with a wheat cash crop can impact their soil health and productivity. Areas with a significant amount of wheat grown as a cash crop often have a different growing season length or annual rainfall when compared to the heart of the corn belt, which is where a bulk of the soil health research has been traditionally conducted.

Establishing wheat sites allows SHP to start evaluating the impacts of diversified crop rotations and how wheat can benefit the soil and other environmental indicators. Often the wheat growers we work with have wheat in their rotation but also other crops such as sorghum, sunflowers, and peas. We will start collecting data to evaluate the impact on soil health as a result of these very diverse crop rotations.

There are many management benefits to having wheat as a part of the crop rotation. One benefit is having an early season window to plant cover crops after wheat harvest. For example, in a standard corn and soybean rotation, harvest is in early to late fall, making fall cover crop establishment a challenge. If a late harvest occurs, the cover crop planting window is even smaller. Harvesting wheat in mid to late summer opens up new opportunities for cover crop establishment.

Three SHP wheat sites were established in 2019; two in Kansas and one in Minnesota. In 2020, SHP Field Managers will work together to use learnings from these initial research sites to create a wheat specific SHP strategy. This will include expert advice from a working group made up of leaders in wheat science to help our program to evolve to provide the most valuable data back to our wheat growers.