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Top dressing small grains

Top dressing your small grains (adding nitrogen, generally after the three leaf stage of your crop) can substantially improve your crop's yield potential. However, nitrogen is expensive and if there is dry weather after you have applied the top dressing it could reduce your yield. Your money could be wasted. In order to hit the higher yield jackpot you will need rain on your fields after the top dressing, before your small grain plants make the six leaf stage. That rain will take the nitrogen down into the soil just where your plants need it. Deciding whether to apply a nitrogen top dressing and when is crucial.

The move towards top dressing

It is possible to apply your small grain's nitrogen needs with one application. However, with the benefit of on-going research, farmers are turning more towards a split-application of nitrogen, one application in the fall, with a top dressing in the spring when pesticides, if required, could be applied too. Furthermore, environmental concerns have driven the search for accurate nitrogen soil testing, which have recently been successful. Talk to your state agriculture department or your local testing lab about nitrogen soil testing as you may be able to save money on applying just enough nitrogen particularly if there is legacy nitrogen in your soil left over from a previous crop. Good for costs and good for the environment, providing the necessary rainfall or irrigation are forthcoming after the application.

Top dressing

Whatever product or application that you choose to apply during the top dressing process it is important that the application is uniform and is applied at the right time. You can apply your top dressing with a dry fertilizer or spay with a liquid fertilizer. Either method can be employed using NutriSphere-N®. Talk to your Southern States representative as to what will work best on your farm. Dry fertilizers, for instance, urea granules, can be spread evenly, are easy to handle, and are usually cheaper and easy to obtain. However, urea can be subject to nitrogen loss through evaporation, although hopefully, cooler weather conditions at the time of application should negate this. However, using NutriSphere-N® should remove the downside of having to rely so much on the weather at the time of application. Alternatively, you may choose to apply a urea-ammonium-nitrate (UAN) solution with NutriSphere-N®, through a broadcast nozzle. This method can include insecticides too thus saving passes across your fields. Try to keep your application per acre to under 10 gallons as broadcasts at or greater than this can cause leaf burn on your plants, especially in warmer weather. A disadvantage to broadcasting UAN is that windy conditions can make the broadcast uneven; the use of stream nozzles can help negate this effect.

Once you have decided to top dress your crop, getting the application correct is crucial. Too much, too little, or a combination of both with an uneven spread is not good. If you do not have the experience, the correct equipment, or if it is not calibrated correctly you will save time and money by calling in the professionals to do the job for you. A part of Southern States’ GrowMaster® Certified Crop Services, you can count on our fleet of GrowMaster Certified spreader and sprayer trucks and certified drivers to get the job done right. Our GPS-based Precision Ag program is also available in select areas to save you even more by putting fertilizer only where it's needed after soil tests of your fields.

When to top dress

While the general timing for top dressing is going to be the spring (from emergence of the plant to its six leaf stage), research has shown that the optimum time for applying a top dressing of nitrogen to small grains is when the plant has reached Feekes Growth Stage five. Wheat grains, for example, look very similar at Growth Stage three as they do at Stage five. Wheat, at Growth Stage three is when the growing point is underground. At Stage five, the growing point, while still underground, has moved up the stem to approximately half an inch above the ground. With the importance of timely application, if you are in any doubt it may be best to take experienced advice or to get some plant samples tissue tested. Bear in mind that accurate tissue samples should also be a pointer as to how much top dressing is required and this information could save you time and money.

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