Home » Fertilizer » Impact of Nitrogen timing 2021-22 Version

Impact of Nitrogen timing 2021-22 Version

Raedan Sharry, Ph.D. Student Precision Nutrient Management

As wheat planting rapidly approaches for some and gets underway for others, it is without a doubt worth considering the current moisture conditions, the near-term outlook, and how that might influence N management decisions. There is plenty of information located in this blog and many other resources that show the benefits of delayed N management in crops. This is particularly true when considering an extremely long growing season for winter wheat in the southern plains. Given our current soil moisture situation yield expectations given the current soil moisture may be limited until replenishing precipitation occurs. This has many questioning their N management plan.

Often when talking about the past N timing results How Late Can You Wait there are comments about the risk of waiting and the crop needing N to get going. Most of the work in the past looked at a single application of N applied at different times and didn’t address split application. But the data from a couple of trials located at Perkins and Perry Oklahoma in the 21-22 season is reinforcing what the past data suggest. These trials consisted of 2 varieties with a 0 N check and 9 combinations of N timings to at 90lbs rate and 3 timings at 140 lbs. of N. Ammonium nitrate (34-0-0) was the N source used in this study to limit the impact of urea volatilization. For both locations we have pre-plant soil test results for the 0-6 and 6-12 inch depths. Both locations at about 30 lbs of total N and OM of 2.0% in the top 6 inches.

Table 1. Treatments from 2 N studies located at Perkins and Perry Oklahoma. (TD=Top-Dress) Applications were made pre plant, 1/10/22, and 3/24/22.

The varietal component of this study doesn’t matter in this context so we will leave them unnamed as both cultivars responded very similar to nitrogen timing and rate within each location. The first thing to highlight is both trials were sown in mid-October. October 19th and October 21st to be exact. Both locations received timely rainfall to start the season with approximately 1.5 inches of precipitation falling in half-inch increments between October 25th and November 10th. Top-dress applications in January and March were made on 1/10/22 and 3/24/22 respectively. After the early rainfall events the season was largely dry up until the precipitation in mid-march. So pre-plant fertilizer was incorporated in a fairly timely manner however the January application was applied almost a month before meaningful precipitation occurred.  The March application missed the only productive rainfall event until the end of April however this occurred solely due to the application trigger being based on reaching the jointing stage.

Figure 1. Rainfall (inch) for the 21-22 wheat growing season.

If we take what is stated above into consideration it would be hard to imagine that January applied N would provide a boost over pre-plant. The data says different. At both locations pre-plant N cost us bushels compared to treatments containing fertilizer only in January. Even splitting the application did not produce the same result as treatments that only apply N in-season. At the Perry location at the 90 lb. total rate there was no yield difference between any split applications and the 0-90-0 application making the January application more cost effective. While there were no split application treatments made at the 140 lb. rate the 0-140-0 treatment (140 lbs. applied in January) maximized yield. I also think it is important to note that if the March applications would have been applied prior to the rain event immediately preceding them the March application likely would have AT LEAST been competitive with the other treatments given previous research focusing on delayed N applications. Statistically the 90-0-0 and 0-0-90 were in the same grouping for both cultivars.

Figure 2. 2021-22 winter wheat grain yield at Perry, OK. Black bar variety 1, orange bar variety 2. Treats labels as rate of N (lbs N per acre Pre – Greenup – Jointing  i.e. 0-0-0

At the Perkins location the results were not much difference as far as impact of timing. In-fact except for Var 1 at Perkins 0-140-0 was statistically better than all other treatments. Also expect for Var 1 at Perry the 0-90-0 and 140-0-0 were statistically the same. In all cases 90-0-0 yielded less than 0-90-0 but it was not statistical for all comparisons.

Figure 3. 2021-22 winter wheat grain yield at Perkins, OK. . Black bar variety 1, orange bar variety 2. Treats labels as rate of N (lbs N per acre Pre – Greenup – Jointing  i.e. 0-0-0

The timing component is important as it shows that we are perfectly capable of applying N in-season and being successful. In-fact this work, and other work is starting to show that contrary to past beliefs, split application is not providing any benefit over a single well-timed application.   The source of N of this project needs to be consider as the January top-dress application sat on the surface for almost a month before finally receiving just under two-tenths of an inch of precipitation. We will have another blog coming out soon looking at the impact of N sources urea versus UAN when applied in Fall, January, or March very soon.

With these results in mind and current moisture conditions it is only reasonable to consider delayed nitrogen application, not only to increase nitrogen use efficiency and possibly increase yields as well as a virtually guaranteed increase in grain protein, but also as a way to hedge your bet against fertilizer application cost. This work and all the past work support that grain only wheat does not benefit from the application of pre-plant N.  By applying N fertilizer now there is a chance that it may become a sunk cost with a poor performing or even failed crop. And if it does start raining, well that pre-plant N will be right there ready to be leached. Being efficient is important in the tight years, and by delaying N application until you are sure the crop requires it may save you a pretty penny or more.

Questions or comments please feel free to reach out.
Brian Arnall b.arnall@okstate.edu
Acknowledgements:  EDC Ag Products Co LLC for support of this project.
Oklahoma Wheat Commission and Oklahoma Fertilizer Checkoff for Funding.

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