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Frequent information updates for agricultural audiences

Nitrogen Management for Wheat - from Mike Roegge

Posted by John Fulton -

No doubt there are far fewer acres of wheat this year than we've had for a number of years. Complications of wet soil and the late harvest limited the number of acres sown last fall. Because of the late planting, many of the wheat acres were somewhat under developed entering dormancy when compared to normal. There just wasn't enough time between sowing and fall dormancy to get good growth. Hopefully, producers sowed at a heavier rate last fall to compensate for reduced tillering. As each tiller can produce a spike (head), increased tillers lead to increased yield.

Spring weather can also influence tillering. Since wheat is a cool season crop, a sunny and cool early spring can favor tiller development. Nitrogen can also influence tillering. Late winter nitrogen applications on thin stands may increase tillers. Take some stand counts. As a rule of thumb, 70 tillers per square foot is considered adequate for optimal yield.

The U of I has adopted some new nitrogen recommendations for wheat. These are based upon soil organic matter, nitrogen price and wheat price. The first step is to determine the amount of nitrogen a bushel of wheat will "buy". For instance, with urea priced at $400 per ton, the cost per unit of N is about 45 cents per pound. With wheat selling for $4.50 (July cash bid), one bushel of wheat would buy 10 pounds of nitrogen.

Then determine the organic matter level of the soil in which the wheat is growing. Higher soil OM levels can allow you to reduce your N application rates, as the soil will provide nitrogen through mineralization. Based upon the above economic scenario, the recommended N rates for various soil OM levels are as follows:

Soil OM of less than 2%- 120-150 pounds nitrogen

Soil OM of 2-4%- 80-100 pounds of nitrogen

Soil OM of greater than 4%- 50-70 pounds of nitrogen

Care should be taken if applying 120 or more pounds of nitrogen to ensure that overlap doesn't occur. And if attempting to interseed clover, you'll need to reduce the N rate by 25% or so.

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