Home » Fertilizer » Top-dress Wheat with P and K ??

Top-dress Wheat with P and K ??

Brian Arnall, Precision Nutrient Management Extension Specialist
Hunter Lovewell, Past PNM MS student.

Original Blog Name: Managing P and K in a wheat Double-crop Soybean System.
I planned to wait until the soybean yields came in to share the data from this project, but the wheat results are just too interesting this year.

So the trial posed the question, when is the best time to apply the phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) for the soybean crop in a wheat double crop soybean system, if any is needed above what is applied for the wheat crop. We applied the wheat’s P&K at establishment, but the soybeans P&K was applied either at wheat establishment, top-dress wheat timing, or post wheat harvest pre soybean planting. We used the sources of granular triple super phosphate (0-46-0) and potash (0-0-60) for all applications. We hypothesized the wheat crop would not benefit from the soybeans portion of P&K and that the top-dress application timing for the soybeans P&K would result in the greatest soybean yields.

The trials consisted of thirteen treatments replicated four times. Phosphorus and K rates were determined using Oklahoma State University (OSU) recommendations based on pre-plant soil test, Mehlich 3 P. Treatments with a “+” to the right of a letter represent adding the recommended double-crop fertility to the recommended rate needed for the wheat crop of that same nutrient.

So far, we have six site years with completed cycles with locations at the Eastern Research Station (ERS) near Haskell, Oklahoma, Ballagh Family Research Farm (BF) near Newkirk, Oklahoma, Skagg Family Farm (SF) near Lamont, Oklahoma, and Lake Carl Blackwell Research Farm (LCB) near Perry, Oklahoma. The research was conducted during the 2019-2020 growing season and the 2020-2021 growing season. For the 2021-2022 cycle we added two more locations one again on the Skagg Family farm and the second on a new cooperator, O’Neil Farms (OF) near Ponca City.  For all locations no P or K was applied by the farmers at any point, but they did manage IPM. See location descriptions below.

Location names, years, soil series name, texture classification and soil test pH, P, and K results. For P and K rates based upon soil test results see the OSU Factsheet PSS-2225 https://extension.okstate.edu/fact-sheets/osu-soil-test-interpretations.html

The first two years of work is written up in Mr. Hunter Lovewell’s thesis titled “EFFECTS OF PHOSPHOROUS AND POTASSIUM APPLICATION TIMING ON A WHEAT DOUBLE-CROP SOYBEAN SYSTEM” which I can share with those interested. To be honest, Hunter had a couple tough seasons. Basically where wheat did well, beans typically failed and where you had good beans the previous wheat had failed. All the same he had some interesting results. What follows is pulled from his conclusions.

“While a significant response to the application of P and K was limited, the results show that there are environments in which the wheat crop can benefit from additional P and K fertilizer applied for the soybean crop. In the case of the soil (SF-SH) with low M3P and an acidic soil pH, the additional P applied during the winter wheat growing season, intended for soybeans, alleviated the aluminum toxicity issues with acidic pH, increasing wheat yields. Beyond the single location with low soil test P and pH no other significant response was found to the addition of and P. This may be explained in that most locations were only marginally deficient P and the majority of the varieties used in the study were considered to have acid soil tolerance. Penn and Arnall (2015) found that cultivars with aluminum tolerance had increased P use efficiency. The BF location showed a significant wheat grain yield response to the K fertilization, but the additional K applied for the soybean crop showed no benefit for the wheat crop. While there was no significant increase in soybean grain yield to the additional K fertilizer observations suggest that the application of K fertilizer for soybeans may be of benefit. As was mentioned before the double-crop system is susceptible to yield-limiting conditions, heat, and moisture, due to the maturity of the crop during the peak summer months. The soybean grain yields achieved in this study were all below the previous five-year yield average for all the locations. The low achieved yields and crop stress may have limited this study’s ability to identify a significant response to the application of fertilizer. “

So, one of the most interesting finding from the first six sites was that topdressing P increased yield of the wheat crop on the soil that had low pH and P. And since the P recs applied were only considering STP values and not soil pH, we had underapplied P for the wheat.

Now moving on to the 2021-22 season. Well as most of the famers know, this season has been a doozy. That said, we were not able to establish the treatments until February 1st. Therefor in the case of the 2021-22 wheat season the first application of P&K was made at top-dress timing and then the second application was made post wheat harvest. So, we are unable to say how a preplant wheat P&K application would have performed. But the wheat grain yield response to P&K was better than I could have ever imagined.

Rainfall totals for January-June for the Medford (Skaggs, SF-Nfld) and Burbank (O’Neil, OS) mesonet locations. http://www.mesonet.org

The rain post application (Feb 1st) was marginal but better than other areas in the central/southern Plains. There was about 1” of precipitation in February, almost 3” in March and under 0.2” in April. May rains for the OF site near Burbank aided in allowing the yields to climb, maxed out at 82 bushels per acre, while the SF-Nfld missed out on many of the late rains and yields topped out at 39 bushels.

Winter wheat grain yields from the Skaggs SF-Nfld and O’Neil ON fields. Phosphorus and potassium treatments applied on February 1st at rates based upon soil test and OSU recommendations.

At both sites there is a clear and distinct response to P fertilizer. Note the N and NK treatments significantly lower than all other treatments. The last column on each figure title NPK is the average of all other treatments that only received the wheats P&K rate and had yet had the soybeans P&K applications.

We were able to statistically analyze the locations together by calculating a relative yield for each location. This is done by dividing the yield of each plot by the yield of the N only treatment, we did this for each replication. We then ran a t-test to look at significant treatment difference, so below any treatments that has the letters above the columns, such as an ab and b, are not statistically different at a 95% level.  

Relative grain yield (Trt yld / N trt yld) for both of the 2021-22 locations. Treatments with same letters over column not significant based on, t-Test LSD ran at alpha = 0.05. Black column represent additional treatments which were fertilized with additional P&K after winter wheat grain harvest.

The relative yield data was able to confirm that across both locations an application of P in February significantly increased yields at a consistent level of 30-50%.  It is interesting that while the NP+K+ treatment almost sorts out as being statistically the highest.

While I am not even close to suggesting that you should delay application of P fertilizer in wheat production, I am a big fan of in-furrow applications, this work does point to opportunities. Such as the ability to return to the field after the wheat is up and apply broadcast P if perhaps you could not at planting. But specifically, the potential for in-season Variable Rate phosphorus based upon crop response, maybe a P-Rich strip. What I can tell you this means is that I have more work to do. First, I need a better understand of when and where this is possible. Then it is time to figure out how to use this to our advantage to more efficiently use P fertilizer.
I do want to reiterate, I am not suggesting to move away from Preplant P nor in-furrow.

Keep an eye out for the soybean data because hopefully we catch a few good rains and find out if the timing of P&K will impact the double crop yields.

I want to send a big Thank you to all the cooperators who have put up with me and my time over years to get this data and the Oklahoma Soybean Board for their continued support of this project.

Feel free to send any questions for comments my way at b.arnall@okstate.edu

1 Comment

  1. kinderjw says:

    Wow, that opens up a lot. Although not the same thing, I’ve concluded if I resow wheat because of an early stand failure, I in-furrow starter (15-10-0) again, regardless of soil tests. Thanks!

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