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2020: A Jekyll and Hyde Year Revisited with Aaron Esser

Posted by Blythe Howell | September 14, 2020

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Contact Information:

For questions or comments, contact Aaron Esser via email at aarons@wsu.edu.


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Episode Transcription:

Drew Lyon: Hello. Welcome to the WSU Wheat Beat podcast. I’m your host, Drew Lyon, and I want to thank you for joining me as we explore the world of small grains production and research at Washington State University. In each episode, I speak with researchers from WSU and the USDA-ARS to provide you with insights into the latest research on wheat and barley production. If you enjoy the WSU Wheat Beat podcast do us a favor and subscribe on iTunes or your favorite podcasting app and leave us a review while you’re there so others can find the show too.

[ Music ]

Drew Lyon: My guest today is Aaron Esser. Aaron is with WSU Extension in Lincoln and Adams counties. He has been with WSU for more than 20 years. About 10 years ago, he took over the chair of the WSU Wilke Farm Management Committee. The WSU Wilke Research and Extension Farm is a 340-acre facility on the Eastern edge of Davenport, Washington in the intermediate rainfall zone. Hello Aaron.

Aaron Esser: Hello Drew. How are you?

Drew Lyon: I’m doing well. So, with the 2020 winter wheat harvest in the rearview mirror now, can you summarize the season for us in the intermediate rainfall zone?

Aaron Esser: Yeah, Drew, you know, down here in the traditional winter wheat summer fallow area of Adams County, the winter wheat harvest is, for the most part, it’ll be wrapping up here by the end of the week, I think. And when you get into the higher rainfall portions of Lincoln County, you know, they’re really just starting to really crank it up as of this week. So, it’s been kind of interesting. But when you look at what the wheat harvest has been like, I’m going to call it kind of Jekyll and Hyde, a lot of good versus bad. Some very good yields. On the bad side, maybe the prices, you know, when you look at just the last couple weeks, we’ve lost, I don’t know, we’ve lost a significant amount, I think 24 cents or something like that per bushel. So, that’s part of the Jekyll and Hyde. But when you look at, you know, some of the stuff with the variety test plots and stuff, it kind of sums up a little bit about what we’re seeing. You know, going into that after May 1st, once we started getting some of the rain, at 80% of the crop in both Lincoln and Adams County rated in that good-to-excellent and I think we’re pretty close to that. You know, having the third wettest event, I think, at Lind really helped. And when you start looking at one of the — what I’m going to call the, on the Jekyll and Hyde portion of it, the good versus bad, a lot of the yields were in relationship to how well you did trying to get your winter annual weeds, especially downy brome, under control. And when I look at limiting factors across Lincoln and Adams County, I’m going to say downy brome was probably the single largest yield limiting factor that we’ve had this year. And I think that’s probably going to be the kind of the story moving forward. You know, that’s really told in the variety test plot results. When you look at Lind on the variety test results, the trial averaged 80 bushel an acre, which is greater than anything they’ve had over the last five years. You know, over the last five years, it’s averaged 56.4 bushel, so we’re 24 bushel over the five year average. So, extremely good yields there. But then when you go to Ritzville, it says, you know, they put a lot of effort into trying to get the downy brome under control, Clark Neely’s group did. This location was not harvested because of downy brome. And I think that’s just kind of summarizes what we’re seeing across this area. And I think those results are probably going to even extend a lot further than the traditional winter wheat summer fallow area that I traditionally work in.

Drew Lyon: I know I had a study out near Ritzville where we did some work on downy brome control. We didn’t put out any treatments to the spring, and even though we got excellent spring control of the downy brome, we still lost a lot of yield because of that fall and winter competition from downy brome. So, where the downy brome wasn’t a problem in the fall and over winter, yields were quite good, but if you had downy brome in the fall and winter, even if you got it controlled in the spring, there was a significant yield hit because of that.

Aaron Esser: Yeah, I was talking with the producer actually today and we’re reminiscing about kind of that perfect storm, where two years ago, kind of in the same fields that they’re harvesting this year, two years ago, it was a really dry fall. And despite some of their efforts on doing some tilling and some other things, they really had absolutely no green up into it. So, we germinated, you know, there was no rain two years ago, so nothing germinated and we got all the rain last fall. And so, you know, we’re talking about, I think, every winter annual seed and seed out there germinated this last fall and that’s kind of what we’re seeing with this whole 2020 crop year.

Drew Lyon: Okay. So, I assume you got a number of questions on downy brome control but what other questions were fairly common this past year?

Aaron Esser: A lot of what I, you know, there was nothing really out of the ordinary for the most part. But a lot of the going back to the rust and the foot rot and what — do I need to put a fungicide or do I not need to spray and stuff. And I think that was a big factor early on. You know, we’re looking at some different rust especially as we moved into May with some of the precip. But going back, you know, going over those numbers with farmers. Okay, what variety do you plant? What do you have for a stripe rust number? Is it susceptible or resistant? And then what do you have for a foot rot number, strawbreaker foot rot? Is it — how susceptible is it? You know, like a variety, like Curiosity. You know, I think it’s a six for stripe rust and is pretty susceptible to strawbreaker foot rot. You know, when I look at a variety like that, the application of fungicide is probably or is definitely worth it. But when you look at another variety like resilience, it has a one for — I think it has a 1 for stripe rust and it has a 4 for strawbreaker foot rot. That’s what I had at the WSU Wilke Farm this year. We applied no fungicides on that crop and it did extremely well for us. I actually put a trial in it, you know, because I kept getting asked this question. So right after we got done with herbicides, I put some fungicide treatment out over the crop both in an area in the draw bottom where, you know, foot rot might be more prevalent. And we also had some pretty severe frost damage in the draw. And we also put the same study up on the hill where we didn’t have, you know, maybe less prevalence for foot rot resistance– or for foot rot, and we had less frost damage or no frost damage. And overall, it was interesting. No difference in yield, whatsoever. And I think the check actually had maybe half a bushel advantage over where we put this, where we spent $13 on fungicide.

Drew Lyon: Okay. I wonder if for our listeners who may not be aware of our rating system here, if you could explain what a 1 and a 4 is and what the scale is used when making those ratings.

Aaron Esser: Yeah, if you go into the variety test location, good point, Drew. If you go into the variety test location or website, especially on the Variety Testing Tool, you’re going to see a list of varieties and then it has them ranked on most of them are one, one to nine with one being the most susceptible and nine being the most or not, excuse me. [ Drew laughs ] One is the most resistant and nine is the most susceptible and stuff. So, most disease gradients goes off that scale of one to nine.

Drew Lyon: So you’re looking for something with a one to three —

Aaron Esser: Yeah, the lower the number the better off you are. Yeah.

Drew Lyon: Okay, so —

Aaron Esser: And so the — a lot of work goes into developing those numbers, you know. And sometimes farmers, you know, they may not want to trust them but in most of my time and energy like the study we put in on that resilience this year, you know, the numbers worked and no fungicide was required. I would have got a — I think I would have got a completely different answer if we would have planted curiosity.

Drew Lyon: Okay. So, a good point for growers to know what those numbers are so they know what to do, and stripe rust or some other problem rears its head. So, there was no — this was an unusual year because there’s no in-person WSU Wilke Farm Field Day this year. How did — I think you tried some virtual tours or some virtual videos of tours? How did those go and you can give us a few highlights from the Wilke Farm?

Aaron Esser: You know, I’d like to start on that by thanking Dr. Clark Neely and the Variety Testing Program and then the WSU Academic Outreach and Innovation for helping put all that together, especially in such a short time and everything else with all this stuff going on. I think they did a really good job of putting together some of this. So, I was really impressed by that. If you haven’t gone and found those videos where the WSU Wilke Field Day up there and some selected things, you can go to the WS — if you just Google WSU YouTube Field Day, it should come up. It came up in my web browser, and a great opportunity. I’m still looking for some more views on that. So, that’d be good to get some more views.

Drew Lyon: You can also get to them through the WSU Wheat and Small Grains website, smallgrains.wsu.edu.

Aaron Esser: Okay. Yes, I figured you’d pick that one up, Drew. [ Drew laughs ]

Drew Lyon: Thanks for your pitch!

Aaron Esser: Yeah, but you know, some of the highlights, you know, we’ve had views — by the way, we’ve had more views than what would have attended the field day so that’s a good thing but, you know, I’m always optimistic and hoping for a few more. You know, but some of the highlights we had, you know, part of it the interesting comparison winter wheat versus winter peas. I summarized one of those studies, you know, we’ve been doing over the last three years. And when you go back and look at it, and break it down on equal pricing, winter peas and winter wheat have actually returned close to the same amount on a per pound basis. But winter wheat will outyield winter peas so you’re making a little bit more off the winter wheat than you do off the winter peas. The spring wheat yields are significantly better following winter peas than following winter wheat, which is to be expected. But it doesn’t quite make up necessarily for that whole economic loss we took in the winter wheat versus winter pea comparison. But the one thing you have is you have good weed control. And I can’t devalue that. You know, I told you, I was talking to a cohort today and he said, you know, downy brome for the most part one or at one on his farm. And he said the only grassy weed control that worked was my peas. The Beyond he was disappointed in, he was disappointed with the Osprey and some of the stuff he put the Olympus on. He said he was disappointed in all those. The one he was only — the only one he was happy with was the peas. You know, so that has the factor into some of the economic value and things like that. So, it’d be nice to see if we can get, you know, that market price of peas up a little bit because I think that’ll be tremendous in helping us with this grassy weed control. You know, Lydia from Ian Burke’s group talked about their research and what they’re doing with the weed at system and the weed at technology. And I still really have — especially for these producers out here in this winter wheat summer fallow area — I think that technology is really going to be instrumental as we move forward over the next five to 10 years. Not only just in fallow management, but I’d like to have that technology available for farmers now to — after they’re done with harvest to bring that technology in and run across those fields and really take care of any weeds that they have out there. You know, after you harvest, you got a few Russian thistles and, yeah, maybe some prickly lettuce and some mares tail and, you know, la-di-da-di-da, all hanging on, and you could finally go out and just finish them off. So, I really like that technology. And then, you know, Isaac talked about the canola, the spring canola varieties. And, you know, when you start looking at what canola can bring to the table, it’s not the canola of yesterday, you know. Some of these varieties have some pretty good yield potential. I think when you look at them, some of the spring canola that we have in Lincoln County, there’s going to be people breaking their all-time high-end yields this year. And a lot of credit goes to the improvements in the cultivars and the knowledge gained on how to produce these, how to produce canola, and selecting the right variety, and just the technology and weed control that you can use that it brings. You can have the Clearfield resistance, you have LibertyLink resistance, you have Roundup Ready, or you have some of the traditional non-GMO canolas or Clearfield is a non-GMO as well. But you have a lot of different choices that really fit into a different — into whatever type of cropping system you have. So I really like that. You know, one of the things we’re going to highlight at the Wilke Field Day is our first attempt at winter barley. We put it in a re-crop scenario. And the good news is we have winter barley, we’re currently harvesting it. The bad news is the weeds, especially those winter annuals did quite well. We have unexpectedly more downy brome than we anticipated in the field. And the mustard broadleaf stayed quite well as well. So, you know, weed control is a minus and market price of barley is definitely a minus but we’ll see what happens with our yield moving forward.

Drew Lyon: Okay. Sounds like you have some interesting things going on at the Wilke Farm this year. Do you have any changes coming along for the coming year?

Aaron Esser: Well, you know, maybe it’s — I’m a little nervous, Drew, because after we finished ’19, you know, it was so many ups and downs. I’m like, I kept making comments. I can’t wait for 2020 to get here. And you know, I keep hearing people go, “careful what you wish for, careful what you wish for”. Well, I was sorry, I wished for 2020. And so now, I’m scared to say I can’t wait for 2021 to get here. But what we have going, I think, is building on what we’ve been doing, continue with the soil pH work that we’ve been doing. We’ve expanded that study, not only at the Wilke Farm, but we put it in a second location in cooperation with Howard Nelson, some ground up at Creston. So further continue to look at soil pH, and how to mitigate some of those issues. We have a long term study at the Wilke Farm. We have seen anywhere from this year, we had a 3.7% increase in yield to the previous two years with chickpeas and DNS spring wheat. I think we are close to a 6.5% increase in yield. Probably not quite enough to pay for the application stuff, but at least we’re seeing some positive influences from increasing the soil pH in some of these regions. Expanding the work looking at downy brome control, you know, you’ve heard me say it over and over I think, the thing that’s going to be keeping farmers up at night is going to be weed control, weed control, and weed control. It’s not going to be variety selection, or anything else. If we can get them the weed control and stuff under control, I think we can find a lot of varieties that will fit farmers just fine. And so, we’ve expanded some of that work, going back, looking at using Zidua and some of these products. Zidua is a Group 15 herbicide. It’s kind of one of those pre-plant or herbicides, needs some activity in the soil and things to get it to work. But we’re trying some different timings and things like that, see if we can find more efficacy out of that to maybe help with the — to help with the Group 2s for downy brome control.

Drew Lyon: Yeah, I think it’s important to get a couple of modes of action and they’re working together because the individual ones are starting to fail us.

Aaron Esser: I don’t think they’re starting to. I think they’re — [ both laugh ] I think they started to a year or two ago. I think we’re — it’s full-throttle now on that side of things.

Drew Lyon: Yup. I would agree. And I see wild oats coming on strong. So they’re starting to lose or being able to overcome the herbicides we’ve been using.

Aaron Esser: It’s interesting, as you mentioned the wild oat thing, I probably have more wild oats in my — on the Wilke Farm this year than I’ve had the last five years combined. And I think a lot of it comes down to May rain. It was when they started and it really brought on some wild oats but I even had wild oats in some of my winter wheat. It’s been a long time in that Lincoln County area that I’ve seen wild oats and winter wheat.

Drew Lyon: I know that —

Aaron Esser: So that was kind of surprising to me.

Drew Lyon: And Dr. Burke’s identified resistance to Group 1s and Group 2s throughout Eastern Washington in wild oats. So, it’s out there and it’s — my guess is it’s on the increase now. So, downy brome, Italian ryegrass, wild oat, Russian thistle, pick your weed and you have resistance issues out there. So, we spent a lot of time talking about 2020 and what you’ve seen this year, what — get your crystal ball out, what do you see as the big changes coming in the next few years?

Aaron Esser: You know, the big change is we’re going to continue with these record or near-record yields, and the price is going to go up.

Drew Lyon: Wonderful! [ laughs ]

Aaron Esser: A lot. So, you know, so I would go, I want to talk a little bit about positive but, you know, we always come back to herbicides and we always want that one, you know, I apply this herbicide to fix this problem, this herbicide to fix this problem. You know, it’s really going to take that systems in the rotation and stuff and, you know, just at the Wilke Farm alone, you know, we keep a piece to the farmer at three rotation which is summer fallow, winter wheat, spring cereal. And then the other one is a four-year rotation, we go summer fallow, winter wheat, a broadleaf crop, then a spring cereal. So we stretch it out to four years, and it’s so much easier, Drew, year in and year to control weeds in that four-year rotation than what we have in that three rotation. And, you know, there’s never been a good substitute for management and having a plan in place. So we still got to continue solving today’s problems with an eye to what we’re doing for the future. And I think that’s going to be more important today than ever with some of the stuff coming down. You know, I started doing Farmville education. I think there were a few farmers shocked that they had barley base acres, you know, I didn’t know that existed on our farm, you know, in this country, out here in the winter wheat and summer fallow. Well, since this — since we got the Group 2s out there for downy brome, you know, the barley and the spring cropping and stuff went away. And I think we’re going to start pulling some of that stuff back into it to really help us get a handle on this grassy weed control. You know, we can’t rely on herbicides and herbicides alone. We hear about the new CoAXium system and stuff. You know, that’s another one. We can’t rely on the CoAXium system alone. It’s going to take multiple modes of action, multiple rotations, and some other diversity to help prolong the tools — that tool and the tools that we have that are currently still working. So, you know, put an emphasis on management moving forward and not just in the short term, but with an eye on the long term, I think, is going to be more important.

Drew Lyon: Well said. I couldn’t have said it better myself, Aaron. Aaron, thanks for taking some time to share with us what you’ve seen at the Wilke Farm and then your area this year and your thoughts about the near future. Thanks for being on the show.

Aaron Esser: I appreciate everything, Drew, and thanks again for all you do.

[ Music ]

Drew Lyon: Thanks for joining us and listening to the WSU Wheat Beat podcast. If you like what you hear don’t forget to subscribe and leave a review on iTunes or your favorite podcasting app. If you have questions or topics, you’d like to hear on future episodes please email me at drew.lyon — that’s lyon@wsu.edu –(drew.lyon@wsu.edu). You can find us online at smallgrains.wsu.edu and on Facebook and Twitter @WSUSmallGrains. The WSU Wheat Beat podcast is a production of CAHNRS Communications and the College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences at Washington State University. I’m Drew Lyon, we’ll see you next time.

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