In the mid-1970s Dr. Robert Westerman banded 18-46-0 with wheat at planting in a low-pH soil near Haskel Ok. The impact was immediately evident. Soon after Oklahoma State University recommended the “Banding of Phosphate in Wheat: A Temporary Alternative to Liming” Figure 1. This method was a Band-Aid solution for the significant amount Oklahoma winter wheat production area which was either too far from a reliable lime source or under a short term lease contract.
Still today grain producers throughout the United States commonly farm a large percentage of land that is not their own. In the leasing process agreements can widely vary both on length of the lease and the amount of inputs that the land owner will pay. The wheat belt of Oklahoma is known for having large areas with low soil pH levels. A survey of soil samples submitted to the Oklahoma State University Soil, Water, and Forage Analytical Laboratory in 2011 under the winter wheat crop code showed 38% of the samples having a soil pH level below 5.5 (Figure 2). In Oklahoma short term leases with limited shared expenses have limited the access to agricultural lime for remediation of acidic soils. In the dry environment it may take up to one year before the lime applied has completely corrected the soil acidity problem. In a situation where the lease agreement is only for one to two years there may be no economic benefit for the producer to apply lime especially in regions where winter wheat average yields range from 20 to 40 bushel per acre. The current recommendation for winter wheat producers working on low-pH short term lease ground is to apply 30 lbs P2O5 ac-1 ( 65 lbs 18-46-0 ac-1) with the seed for grain only wheat and 60 lbs P2O5 ac-1 (130 lbs 18-46-0 ac-1) for dual-purpose wheat production. This recommendation however is for soils with adequate soil test P, but low soil pH. When soil test P is below optimum the 30 or 60 units is applied in addition to the amount needed to reach 100% sufficiency.
Banding P is considered a “Band-Aid” as the problem of soil acidity is not re-mediated it is only masked. If not addressed the pH of the soil will continue to fall over time. Aluminum and manganese toxicity is the greatest issue associated with soil acidity. Available aluminum, a predominant mineral in the regions soils, is pH dependent. A change of 1.0 pH level changes available Al by 1000 fold. For example a soil with a pH of 5.0 will have an approximate Al concentration of 27 ppm, critical level of winter wheat is 27 ppm, while a soil with a pH of 4.0 will have an Al concentration of approximately 27,000 ppm. Aluminum and manganese toxicity does not only impact grain yield but it has an even greater impact on biomass production. Kariuki et al (2007) recorded the impact of soil acidity on eight current winter wheat lines. Correcting soil acidity increased wheat grain yield by 82% and increased forage production by 150%. For Oklahoma the forage produced by the wheat crop is as important as the grain. Oklahoma is unique in that approximately 50% of the four million acres of winter wheat are grazed annually much of this under the dual –purpose “Graze-N-Grain” management. To maintain productivity on the land without the long term investment of Ag lime producers have been applying phosphorus fertilizer to alleviate the impact of aluminum toxicity.
In 1992 Boman et al reported that impact banding phosphates with seed on winter wheat forage production (Figure 3). Across the four locations the addition of P increase yield from 2 to 4 fold. The work by Kaitibie et al (2002) documented an additional aspect of banding P. In the variable and often arid climate of Oklahoma the activation of lime can take a significant amount of time, in upwards of one year. In comparison banding P has an immediate impact on the alleviation of metal toxicities. Figure 4 shows the incorporation of lime improved forage yield but not to the degree of banding P. For continuous winter wheat producers the time between application of lime and planting can be quite short. Typically the previous crop will be harvest in mid-June and in the best case scenario lime would be applied and incorporated by mid-July. At this point there is only 60 days until the next wheat crop is planted in early to mid-September.
For many with short term leases banding P is still the only viable solution for wheat production in low-pH soils. However there is ground being farmed by the owner or is under long-term lease that is still receiving this Band-Aid approach. At the 1980-1990 fertilizer and lime prices there is good reason to continue this method. However the cost of P fertilizer has quadrupled since the 1970’s. The last ten year average price of P2O5 was $0.42 per pound while it cost an average of $0.10 in the 70s. So for those who own or are able to work out beneficial lease agreements Table 1 should be of interest. By year three the cost of phosphate exceeds the cost of lime. If you were to use the values from the 1980’s of $0.20 per pound of P2O5 and $25 per ton ECCE lime it was not until year five, the last year before reapplying lime, did the cost of P exceed cost of lime.
As the 2014 winter wheat and canola crop is being transported to the bins it is extremely important to take advantage of this time to take soil samples from as many fields as possible. Soil pH issues must be understood and addressed. I often remind producers soil pH plays an exception number of roles. Not only does it impact yield as shown before but it impacts rooting (ability to survive stresses), nutrient availability, and herbicide activity. Our SU herbicides (Finesse, Powerflex, and Maverick) that are used widely across the state are negatively impacted by low soil pH. Figure 5 shows how at a pH of 5.6 Glean is down to a 50% concentration in the soil approximately two weeks after application. So when it comes time to make the call for phosphorus or lime try to weigh all of these aspects, at current prices P is not that much cheaper, improving pH will improve yield and potentially improve weed control.
Boman,R.K., R.L. Westerman, G.V. Johnson, and M.E. Jojola. 1992. Phosphorus fertilization effects on winter wheat production in acid soils. In Soil Fertility Highlights, Agronomy Department Oklahoma Agricultural Experiment Station, Oklahoma State University.Agronomy 92-1 pg171-174
Kaitibie,S., F. M. Epplin, E.G. Krenzer, and H. Zhang. 2002. Economics of lime and phosphorus application for dual-purpose wheat production in low-pH soils. Agron. J. 94:1139:1145.
Kariuki, S.K., H. Zhang, J.L. Schroder, J. Edwards, M. Payton, B.F. Carver, W.R. Raun, and E.G. Krenzer. 2007. Hard red winter wheat cultivar responses to a pH and aluminum concentration gradient. Agron J. 99:88-98.