Home » Fertilizer » Nitrogen timing in a winter wheat forage system

Nitrogen timing in a winter wheat forage system

Bronc Finch Ph.D. student under the leadership of D.B. Arnall
Brian Arnall, Precision Nutrient Management Specialist.

The recent weather conditions have caused a delay in the ability to top-dress winter wheat in some parts of Oklahoma. Despite this delay, conditions have still been good for growth, which means a steady increase towards the hollow stem and jointing stages. As these stages approach, or have passed, many concerns have been raised about the decision to apply nitrogen to increase spring forage production of winter wheat. A study conducted over the past two years at Oklahoma State University, in cooperation with Noble Research Institute has had the opportunity to evaluate how a nitrogen application at or just after hollow stem impacts the forage production of winter wheat. This study was set up with three fertilizer treatments of a 60 lb N pre-plant only, 120 lb N pre-plant only, and a 60 lb pre-plant and 60 lb top-dress applications. In the first season of the trial, 2018-2019, the fertilizer application was applied shortly after the wheat achieved the Feekes 6 stage (hollow-stem) due to rain and other conditions preventing a timely top-dress. In the 2019-2020 season of the trial the treatments were applied at a more ideal time, near the end of February and beginning of March before hollow stem. For this study the first cutting was targeted for just prior to hollow stem and the second cutting conducted at early boot stage. 

In 2018-2019 the additional 60 lb N applied in the 120 lb N pre-plant increased the dry biomass production in the second harvest by 0.4 and 0.9 tons per acre above the 60 lbs treatment at Chickasha and Lake Carl Blackwell, respectively (Figure 1). The delay of the additional 60 lbs of N increased the yield by an additional 0.7 and 1.7 tons per acre, respectively. The 2019-2020 season showed similar results at the Lake Carl Blackwell location in the second harvest, where the additional 60 lbs N at pre-plant increased biomass yield by 0.6 tons, with the delaying of the additional 60 lbs increasing biomass yield by 0.6 more as compared to the same rate when applied at pre-plant. But that additional yield gained with the split application came at cost as the 120 pre-plant resulted in 0.6 tons more in the first harvest. These results suggest that more N was needed in the pre-plant and top-dress application. The 2019-2020 Chickasha trial showed little difference in rate, more than likely 60 lbs N was enough maximize forage yield.

Figure 1. Dry matter harvest results for each of the harvest dates from the forage wheat trials from Chickasha (left) and Lake Carl Blackwell (right) in 2018-2019 (top) and 2019-2020 (Bottom). Three fertilizer treatments 60: 60 lbs Nitrogen applied at pre-plant, 120: 120 lbs of Nitrogen applied at pre-plant, and 60/60: 60 lbs of Nitrogen applied at pre-plant and an addition 60 lbs of Nitrogen applied at top-dress.

 Total biomass production for 2018-19 winter wheat forage (Figure 2) showed to have a greater increase in total biomass production when the N was split applied with the second application being made shortly after hollow stem. The split application increased total biomass production by as much as 1.3 tons per acre more than the same rate applied as all pre-plant. The 2019-2020 year total biomass production shows to be about the same whether the N was applied all pre or split and applied in February.

Figure 2. Total dry matter harvest results for forage wheat trials from Chickasha and Lake Carl Blackwell in 2018-2019 (Left) and 2019-2020 (Right) Three fertilizer treatments 60: 60 lbs Nitrogen applied at pre-plant, 120: 120 lbs of Nitrogen applied at pre-plant, and 60/60: 60 lbs of Nitrogen applied at pre-plant and an addition 60 lbs of Nitrogen applied at top-dress.

Figure 3 documents N uptake of winter wheat biomass for both years continues the same trend as total biomass. Nitrogen uptake can be directly related to protein as the calculation for protein is %N * 6.25. In all cases uptake was greater than applied. In 2018-2019 split application increased over all nitrogen uptake. Much like the yield of 2019-2020 the N uptake was not significantly impacted by the timing of the N application.

Figure 3. Total nitrogen uptake results for forage wheat trials from Chickasha and Lake Carl Blackwell in 2018-2019 (Left) and 2019-2020 (Right) Three fertilizer treatments 60: 60 lbs Nitrogen applied at pre-plant, 120: 120 lbs of Nitrogen applied at pre-plant, and 60/60: 60 lbs of Nitrogen applied at pre-plant and an addition 60 lbs of Nitrogen applied at top-dress.

Although the assessment of N application made at or after hollow stem in a winter wheat forage system was not an objective of this study, the circumstances have given a unique opportunity to evaluate the outcome. In the 2018-2019 trials when top-dress application was applied at or just following the hollow stem, yield and nitrogen uptake were both increased over the equivalent pre-plant application. For the 2019-2020 season where N was applied at the planned time yields and N uptake were equivalent to the pre-plant. While this data is not conclusive it does indicate the producers can apply N fertilizer to winter wheat forage at or after hollow stem and successfully increase both forage yield and nitrogen uptake.

For questions or comments please feel free to reach out.
Brian Arnall
b.arnall@okstate.edu
405.744.1722

Acknowledgement of LSB Industries for support of these projects.


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