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Northern Illinois Agriculture

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Spring tasks

Posted by Russel Higgins - Wheat

Finally! Winter is loosening its grip on northern Illinois. Another sure sign of spring is the gathering of the Northern Illinois Agronomy Research Center Advisory committee. This Friday they will gather to learn the results from the 2014 projects shared by Dr. Emerson Nafziger and Dr. Greg Steckel. They will also have the opportunity to provide input on 2015 scheduled research projects. Our current committee includes Steve Drendel, Jamie Walter, Chris Gould, Joel Anderson, Alan Adams, Ken Beck, Don Engels, Bill Butler, Bob Jones, John Nienhuis, DeWayne Adams, Ken Ross and Earl Williams Jr.

As the snow recedes farmers have the opportunity to evaluate the winter wheat crop. The Illinois Agronomy Handbook Small Grains chapter suggests that a stand of 30 to 35 plants per square foot is considered optimal, and a minimum of 15-20 healthy plants per square foot is needed to justify keeping a field in the spring. If plants are weakened by winter weather and tiller numbers are low, then even 20 or 25 plants per square foot might not maximize yield.

In the Managing Nitrogen chapter of the Handbook a table (Table 9.2) sharing the recommended spring nitrogen rates for wheat. The table applies economics to the decision, incorporating the cost of nitrogen and the value of the wheat. The Agronomy Handbook recommends calculating the amount of nitrogen equivalent in value to one bushel of wheat. For example, using values collected today in northern Illinois. A bushel of wheat at $4.80 per bushel would "buy" 9.2 pounds of nitrogen at the current local cost of 52 cents per pound. By using the column in the table that corresponds to this value, we can determine the suggested nitrogen rate based on estimated soil organic matter. Buying 9 pounds of nitrogen falls right between the medium and high recommendations; with a moderately dark soil the recommendation would be 60-80 pounds of nitrogen in the medium category or 80-100 pounds of nitrogen in the high category. A change in wheat or nitrogen prices could move the farmer's decision toward one category or the other, or he or she could choose a number somewhere in the middle.

The spring nitrogen recommendations in Table 9.2 (found on page 129 of the Online Agronomy Handbook) are based on applying no more than 30 pounds of N in the fall and on making the spring application at early green-up.

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