Nitrogen Application in Wheat

By: Zack Meyer
Agronomist, CCA
CHS - Okarche

Wheat production is a gamble year in and year out. It is not up to a producer to decide on when the next weather event will take place. The next rain or freeze is right around the corner, but how far ahead is that corner? Growers are mostly in the dark in terms of knowing when our next market rally comes around. One thing that you can control as producers are crop management inputs and other decisions that allow you to give your crop the best chance at succeeding. One of the most important of these decisions revolve around nitrogen.

Step one when dealing with nitrogen or overall soil fertility is knowing what you are working with. The CHS agronomy team offers soil sampling services and evaluations based on analytical results from your field. These results will allow you to implement a strategy that will put your inputs on the acre that needs it and at the necessary amount. Why apply nitrogen at $0.40 per lb. if you don’t know whether you even need it, or how much you actually need? Oftentimes, we all fall into the habit of repeating what we did last year, even though that may not always be our best management decision.

There are a number of factors to consider when making nitrogen applications to wheat. Requirements for nitrogen fluctuate throughout the growing season. At preplant, wheat only requires a small portion of the total requirement. Therefore, you should always consider spreading your applications throughout the year. I like to see 3 applications (preplant, late fall, and spring) of nitrogen throughout the season on an ideal year. In a grazing situation, more nitrogen applied in the fall will boost early forage growth providing more tonnage and quality forage through the dormant period. Environmental conditions play a role in when we can and cannot make nitrogen applications. For example, this year’s crop to date is behind in growth. Therefore, some fields are just not exhibiting enough growth to make that late fall application of UAN. In this case, you may be limited to just a preplant and spring application. Our current crop’s situation may also allow us to explore other sources of nitrogen to help lessen the possible crop injury. This should still allow you to reach your total nitrogen needs. 

Another advantage to splitting your nitrogen applications is to minimize the loss of excess nitrogen. The plant can only utilize a portion of the applied nitrogen at one time, leaving the excess susceptible to volatilization and leaching. While CHS carries products to minimize the amount of loss stemming from leaching and volatilization, the best practice is to split applications.

Crop investment is a scary thing when our commodity prices are struggling. We must always keep an eye on our “break even” but understand that with a little TLC, our current wheat varieties are capable of big things on any given year. It’s imperative to collect all the possible information that will help you feel confident your investments will net a return. Your CHS agronomist can work through this process with you. We will discuss agronomic advantages or disadvantages of our products, develop strategic crop budgets that keep an eye on the “break even”, or assist in all other cropping needs on your farm.

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