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Wheat nitrogen application

When it comes to boosting yields, timing is everything.

Nitrogen (N) is the key nutrient for growth in wheat. In fact, by the time it is harvested, each bushel of wheat requires up to 2 pounds of nitrogen.

Farmers should remember that improper nitrogen applications could result in both lower yields and environmental damage. Following a careful management plan is critical to make your crop thrive.

Fall application

If you are planting your wheat on time, experts recommend applying between 20 and 30 pounds of N per acre to promote tillering. "The ideal time to plant is a two-week window of time: one week before the first frost to one week after." The nitrogen can either be added in your pre-plant harvest or right after planting.

Consider skipping this early application of nitrogen if planting late. When planting wheat late in the season, research has shown that a nitrogen application might not have any effect. If the soil becomes too cold, nitrogen is easily leached out of the ground without being absorbed by the plants.

Winter application

In some instances, a winter application of nitrogen could be necessary. If you observe tillers that are pale green along with thin and poorly developed stands, the soil might have a nitrogen deficiency. Experts advise that applying between 15 to 30 pounds of N per acre can help restore the tillers. However, the application needs to be made when daytime temperatures reach at least 50 degrees.

A tiller count should be performed in late January or early February to see if they need another nitrogen application. The main stem should have at least three or four good tillers, or extending stems, per plant. If this is not the case, adding nitrogen at this time can help stimulate tiller development. However, if tillers are adequate, make sure you do not add any more nitrogen. Adding nitrogen at this stage when it is not needed increases the risk of freeze damage, disease, lodging and reduced yield.

Growth Stage 30

According to many researchers, Growth Stage 30 is the most important time to apply nitrogen to your fields. With the warmer temperatures, tillering stops, and the stem begins elongate. The crop's demand for nitrogen increases quickly. Depending on the weather and when you planted, this stage can occur between February to mid-March.

One indication your wheat has reach Growth Stage 30 is that the plant starts to stand up and get taller. For more definitive proof, pull up several plants and split their stems from top to bottom where the roots grow. The growing point of the plant at Growth Stage 30 and beyond will be one half-inch or more above the first roots.

It is recommended that between 80 to 120 pounds of N be applied at Growth Stage 30, minus whatever you already put down in late January or early February.

Proper nitrogen application to your crops can mean the difference between meager yields and a profitable bountiful wheat harvest. For more information, please consult your Southern States Agronomy expert or local Extension agent.

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