New Zealand farmers break world record for wheat growing

Ashburton arable farmer Eric Watson has broken the world wheat growing record.

Ashburton arable farmer Eric Watson has broken the world wheat growing record.

Ashburton farmers Eric and Maxine Watson have broken the world record for wheat growing.  

The couple produced 16.791 tonnes per hectare, beating the previous record of 16.519 tonnes held for two years by a United Kingdom farmer.

The record was accepted by the Guinness Book of Records, and now means New Zealand farmers own the title for the highest yielding crop of both wheat and barley. Two years ago Timaru's Warren Darling broke the world record for barley.

Watson, who has been farming on his near coastal property for the last 40 years, said it had been a mixed sheep/cropping property until 24 years ago when he got seriously into cropping.

READ MORE: World barley yield record set by Timaru farmers

"It's all about attention to detail, and getting things done at the right time."

Bayer customer manager Neil Waddingham said a lot of the credit had to go to Watson who, like many arable farmers in Canterbury, was highly skilled.

Bayer's role was pivotal because the company supplied the new fungicide that ensured the quality of the autumn-planted, UK-bred Oakley variety, which was harvested in February.

Watson said he had grown high yields before, but never broken the record.

"When we decided to go for the record, we had to lodge the attempt with the Guinness Book of Records, and we needed an independent authority to audit it."

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"We're absolutely delighted to have set a new record – I feel a bit overcome in a way, it's quite an achievement."

Waddingham said the closest rivals to New Zealand farmers were in regions like the UK rather than in well known areas such as the United States grain belt or in Australia.

"In those countries they do not have much water. We use irrigation, more fungicides and nitrogen, which helps maximise the yield."

Fertiliser company Yara worked out the nutritional needs of the crop.

Arable specialist Paul Johnston provided advice over the inputs of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, sulphur and magnesium, as well as carried out regular testing to make sure foliar trace elements were added at the right time.

Watson said the new record would shine a light on the work of the arable industry, while Bayer crop science country manager Scott Hanson said it put New Zealand at the forefront of worldwide farming.

The crop, which was harvested off an 11.89 ha area, would go into animal feed for dairy cows. Watson said New Zealand wheat was either milled for flour, or went into feed for pork, chickens or cows.

On average, irrigated wheat yields in New Zealand are around 12 tonnes per hectare. The record-breaking crop was lightly irrigated, with only two applications.

The Oakley variety was supplied by Carrfields, which also supplied the barley seed for the earlier record.

Watson is unsure whether he will have another tilt at the record, or whether he will need to. If a UK farmer was attempting the record, the harvest would occur in September, and Watson would have then to wait until next autumn to plant.

"It is an exceptional yield, but I could always do better and that's my aim. There were things I saw when I was out there in the combine harvester and I thought, yeah, I could do this a whole lot better," he said.

The Watsons have won numerous farming awards, including Lincoln University's South Island Farmer of the Year Award and the Supreme Award in the Canterbury Ballance Farm Environment Awards.

 - Stuff

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