Home » Fertilizer » 2017-18 Wheat, Nitrogen Outlook

2017-18 Wheat, Nitrogen Outlook

Its that time of year and I wanted to share my thoughts on nitrogen (N) management in the up and coming winter wheat crop. This season is already shaping up to present certain challenges and opportunities. This blog will highlight many of the topics that were brought up in a recent Sunup TV shoot, video below.

This summer the price of Anhydrous Ammonia (NH3) dropped and producers made a run on NH3 for graze out and dual purpose ground. Currently the price of N is still lower than it has been than it has been in a while and producers are are taking advantage.  All things are lining up for this fall to be a good forage year, nitrogen prices are low and we are going into September with a decent soil moisture profile across the wheat belt.  If producers can get into the field in a timely manner and we keep getting timely rains it will make a great forage crop.  But here is my cautionary statement, if this is a good forage year we are shaping up to be short on N by spring. First the market place over the past two years has overall reduced the amount of inputs into the wheat crops and I would say across the  board a lot of the wheat ground is starting out this season with very little residual N.  Secondly and more importantly everything which makes for a good forage year makes for a good N loss year, for Oklahoma good rain usually makes good forage. While NH3 does immediately convert to the non mobile ammonium (NH4) form, when soils are warm and moist it does not take long to convert to the mobile and leachable nitrate (NO3) of N. In a recent study looking at N applied at planting in corn, the majority of the NH4 had converted to NO3 by V4, which is usually four to five weeks after planting. Which means NH3 applied in August is likely completely converted to NO3 by September and susceptible to leaching (Since starting this blog in August we have seen a dry down, note the soil moisture on 9.7.17, and abundance of army worms).  As the story line has been the low protein wheat of the 2016 and 2017 harvest attention needs to be paid to the crop going into spring.

The 1-day Average 16-inch Plant Available Water map from http://www.mesonet.org. Accessed 8.28.17

The 1-day Average 16-inch Plant Available Water map from http://www.mesonet.org. Accessed 9.07.17

At Minimum MASS BALANCE the system for dual purpose. 
The most simplistic approach to nitrogen management this year is the evaluate what has been made for beef gain and what will be needed for wheat grain yield come the spring. The general rule of thumb is that is takes 1000 lbs of forage to produce 100 lbs of beef gain and depending on the N concentration 1000 lbs of wheat forage will have about 20 lbs N tied up in it. As I talk about on a regular basis, nitrogen use efficiency is not 100% so OSUs rec is 30 lbs of N for each 100 lbs of gain/ 60 lbs of N per ton of forage.  On the grain side the standard rule of thumb is 2 lbs of N per bushel. So if the producer applied 100 lbs of NH3 (82 lbs of N) pre-plant and in the spring the average gain is 200 lbs per acre there is only 22 lbs left over for the grain.  At that point if we use the field historic average grain yield, lets assume 30 bushel, there needs to be about 38 lbs of N added.
22 lbs (left from pre) / 2 = 11 bushels. 30 – 11 = 19. 2 lbs N per bushel * 19 bushel = 38 lbs of N.

Grain Only Systems
More and more of the grain only producers I am working with are using a 3 pass fertility approach. The approach works this way, No pre-plant N is applied except for what goes down with the seed.  In all scenarios this is 40-80 lbs of 18-46-0 which delivers 7 to 14 lbs of N above what is already in the soil (residual N). The second pass comes in winter to early spring before green-up where they are typically applying about 60+ lbs of N.  The third pass happens prior to hollow stem.  At this point the producers are taking stock of their crop.  If the stand is good and soil moisture is good the final application tops them off for the rest of the season.  This system is really aided by the application of an N-Rich strip https://osunpk.com/2013/09/19/nitrogen-rich-strips/  . The strip allows the producers to observe the system and know exactly when nitrogen is limited and applications need to be made. Utilizing the Sensor Based Nitrogen Rate Calculator https://osunpk.com/2014/02/24/sensing-the-n-rich-strip-and-using-the-sbnrc/  provides an exact value to the nitrogen needed.
The approach of putting on nitrogen in-season will not only increase the efficiency of the N applied but will help in producing a wheat crop with a good final protein value.

For those wanting to go with the more traditional N application approach of 2 passes I prefer to have no more than 50% of the planned N down at pre-plant. This will allow for a spring green up based upon yield goal.  If using the N-Rich strip in a two pass approach I like to see about 30-40 lbs down at pre-plant and then use the N-Rich Strip and SBNRC to fine tune your top-dress which will take place in the spring. Using this technique the research from OSU shows the we can both maximize yield and nitrogen use efficiency.

For the Full Story watch the Sunup TV YouTube video below.


N-Rich Strip Applicator. Push Spreader that can be purchased at any local hardware store.







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