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Since 2008 I have served as the Precision Nutrient Management Extension Specialist for Oklahoma State University. I work in Wheat, Corn, Sorghum, Cotton, Soybean, Canola, Sweet Sorghum, Sesame, Pasture/Hay. My work focuses on providing information and tools to producers that will lead to improved nutrient management practices and increased profitability of Oklahoma production agriculture

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Time to start topdressing wheat

Great write up by Dr. Edwards.

World of Wheat

There are few crop inputs that deliver as much return on investment as nitrogen fertilizer. It takes approximately two pounds of nitrogen, costing approximately $1.00, to produce one bushel of grain worth about $6.00. Of course, nitrogen is not the only yield determining factor in a wheat crop. Also, the law of diminishing marginal returns eventually kicks in, but nitrogen fertilizer is still one of the safest bets in the house.

Top dress nitrogen fertilizer is especially important because it is applied and utilized at a time when the plant is transitioning from vegetative to reproductive growth. Several things, including the number of potential grain sites, are determined just prior to jointing and it is imperative that the plant has the fuel it needs to complete these tasks. Jointing also marks the beginning of rapid nitrogen uptake by the plant which is used to build new leaves, stem, and the…

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Freeze Injury and N-Rich Strips,


Dr. Jeff Edwards “OSUWheat” wrote about winter wheat freeze injury in a receive blog on World of Wheat, http://osuwheat.com/2013/12/19/freeze-injury/.  As Dr. Edwards notes injury at this stage rarely impact yield, therefore the fertility requirements of the crop has not significantly changed.  What will be impacted is how the N-Rich Strip and GreenSeeker™ sensor will be used.  This not suggesting abandoning the technology in fact time has shown it can be just as accurate after tissue damage.   It should be noted GreenSeeker™ NDVI readings should not be collected on a field that has recently been damaged.

A producer using the N-Rich Strip, GreenSeeker™, Sensor Based N-Rate Calculator approach on a field with freeze damage will need to consider a few points.  First there need to be a recovery period after significant tissue damage; this may be one to two weeks of good growth.   Sense areas that have had the same degree of damage as elevation and landscape position often impacts the level of damage.  It would be misleading to sense a area in the N-Rich strip that was not significantly damaged but an area in the Farmer Practice that took a great deal of tissue loss.

Finally we must consider how the SBNRC, available online at http://nue.okstate.edu/SBNRC/mesonet.php, works.  The calculator uses NDVI to estimate wheat biomass, which is directly related to grain yield.  This predicted grain yield is then used to calculate nitrogen (N) rate.  So if biomass is reduced, yield potential is reduced and N rate reduced.  The same issue is seen in dual purpose whet production.  So the approach that I recommend for the dual purpose guys is the same that I will recommend for those who experienced significant freeze damage.  This should not be used for wheat with just minimal tip burn.

To account for the loss of biomass, but not yield, planting date needs to be adjusted to “trick” the calculator into thinking the crop is younger and has greater potential.   Planting date should be move forward 7 or 14 days dependent  For example the first screen shot shows what the SBNRC would recommend using the real planting date.  In this case the potential yield is significantly underestimated.

The second and third screen shots show the impact of moving the planting date forward by 7 and 14 days respectively.  Note the increase in yield potential, which is the agronomically correct potential for field considering soil and plant condition, and increase in recommended N-rate recommendation.  Adjust the planting date, within the 7 to 14 day window, so that the yield potential YPN is at a level suitable to the field the yield condition and environment.  The number of days adjusted is related to the size and amount of loss.  The larger the wheat and or greater the biomass loss the further forward the planting date should be moved.  In the example below YPN goes from 37 bu ac on the true planting date to 45 bu ac with a 14 day correction.  The N-rate changes from 31 lbs to 38 lbs, this change may not be as much as you might expect.  That is because YP0, yield without additional N, also increases from 26 to 32 bushel.

freeze Zero day moveImage 1. Planting date 9/1/2013.  YPN 37 bu ac-1 and N-Rec 31 lbs ac-1.

Freeze 7 day moveImage 2. Planting date 9/8/2013.  YPN 40 bu ac-1 and N-Rec 34 lbs ac-1.

Freeze 14 day moveImage 3. Planting date 9/15/2013.  YPN 45 bu ac-1 and N-Rec 38 lbs ac-1.

This adjustment is only to be made when tissue has been lost or removed, not when you disagree with the yield potential.  If you have any questions about N-Rich Strips, the GreenSeeker™, or the online SBNRC please feel free to contact me at b.arnall@okstate.edu or 405.744.1722.

Nitrogen Rich Strips

The Nitrogen Rich Strip, or N-Rich Strip, is a technique/tool/process that I spend a great deal of time working with and talking about.  It is one of the most simplistic forms of precision agriculture a producer can adopt.  The concept of the N-Rich strip is to have an area in the field that has more nitrogen (N) than the rest.  Due to our fertilizer applicators this is typically a strip.  The approach maybe somewhat new but at one point most producers have had N-Rich Strips in their fields, albeit accidentally.  Before the days of auto-steer it was not uncommon, and honestly still is not, to see a area in the field that the fertilizer applicator either doubled up on or skipped.  In our pastures and dual purpose/graze out wheat every spring we can see the tell-tale signs of livestock deposits.  When over laps or “Cow Pox” become visible we can assume the rest of the field is behind in nitrogen.  I like to tell producers that the goal of the N-Rich strip is to make a really big cow pie.

Cow Pox, Image courtesy Kaitlyn Nelson
Cow Pox, Image courtesy Kaitlyn Nelson

What I like most about the N-Rich Strip approach is its Simplicity.  The N-Rich Strip is applied and; Scenario 1. The N-Rich Strip becomes visible (Greener) you APPLY NITROGEN, Scenario 2.  The strip is not visible you Option A. DON’T APPLY NITROGEN Option B. Apply Nitrogen Anyways.  The conclusion to apply N or not is based on the reasoning that the only difference between the N-Rich Strip and the area 10 ft from it is nitrogen, so if the strip is greener the rest of the field needs nitrogen.  If there is no difference N is not limiting and our research shows N does not have to be applied.  However producers who decide to be risk adverse (in terms of yield) can apply N but it would be advised to do so at a reduce the rate.  Now is a good time to note that the N-Rich Strip alone provides a Yes or No, not rate recommendation.  At OSU we use the GreenSeeker optical sensor and Sensor Based Nitrogen Rate Calculator (SBNRC) to determine the rate, but that discussion will come later.  I equate the change from using yield goal N rate recs to the N-Rich Strip as to going from foam markers to light bars on a sprayer.   Not 100% accurate but a great improvement.

N-Rich Strip in no-till wheat near Hobart OK.

N-Rich Strip in no-till wheat near Hobart OK.

Now that we have covered the WHY, lets get down to the nuts and bolts HOW, WHEN, WHERE.

How the strip is applied has more to do with convenience and availability than anything else but there are a few criteria I suggest be met. The strip should be at least 10 ft wide and 300 ft long.  The rate should be no less than 50 lbs N (above the rest of the field) for grain only wheat and canola, 80 lbs N for dual purpose wheat.  The normal recommendation is that when applying pre-plant either have a second, higher rate programmed into the applicator or make a second pass over an area already fertilized. Many will choose to rent a pull type spreader with urea for a day, hitting each field.
Becoming more popular are applicators made or adapted for use.  ATV sprayers are the most common as they can be multi-purpose.   In most cases a 20-25 gallon tank with a 1 gpm pump is placed on the ATV with an 8-10ft breakover boom.  The third applicator is a ride away sprayer with a boom running along the rear of the trailer.  In all cases when liquid is the source I recommend some form of streamer nozzle.  In most cases there is not a great deal of thought put into what source.  I recommend whichever source is the easiest, cheapest, and most convenient to apply.

Vincent N-Rich Strip Applicator, Ponca City OK

Vincent N-Rich Strip Applicator, Ponca City OK

Ok State N-Rich Applicator

Oklahoma State Univ. N-Rich Strip Applicator

Gard N-Rich Strip Applicator, Fairview Ok

Gard N-Rich Strip Applicator, Fairview Ok

When the strip is applied in winter crops proper timing is regionally dependent. For the Central Great Plains, ideally the fertilizer should be applied pre-plant or soon after.  However,  in most cases as long as the fertilizer is down by the first of November everything works.  This does not say a strip applied after this time doesn’t work but it leaves more room for error.  There is a chance the crop could already be stressed or the nitrogen tied up and not release in time.  However when the N-Rich Strip approach is used on the Eastern Shore in Virginia and Maryland the strips have to be applied at green up.  The soils in that region are very deep sands and nitrogen applied in the fall may not make it to the spring.  Also most wheat producers in the area make three or more applications of nitrogen unlike the two (pre and top) of the Great Plains.  It is always important to make the tools fit your specific regional needs and practices and not the other way around.

Where is actually the biggest unknown.  The basic answer is to place the N-Rich Strip in the area that best represents the field.  Many people question this as it doesn’t account for spacial variability in the field, and they are correct.  But my response is that in this case spatial variability is not the goal, temporal variability is.  Keeping in mind the goal is to take a field which has been receiving a flat yield goal recommendation for the last 30+ years and make a better flat rate recommendation.  My typically request is that on a field with significant variability either apply a strip long enough to cross the zones or apply smaller strips in each significant area.  This allows for in-season decisions.  I have seen some make the choice to ignore the variability in the field, made evident by the strip, and apply one rate and others choose the address the variability by applying two or more rates.  One key to the placement of N-Rich Strips is record keeping.  Either via notes or GPS, record the location of every strip.  This allows for the strips to be easily located at non-response sites.  It is also recommended to move the strip each year to avoid overloading the area with N.  

I hear a great deal of talk about how it would take to much time to put out the N-Rich Strip.  However the majority of producers that do it once on one field, end up doing it every year on every field. There is very likely someone in your area who is using the N-Rich Strips.   As top-dress grows closer keep an eye out for a blog “Using the GreenSeeker Sensor and Sensor Based Nitrogen Rate Calculator”.

For more information on N-Rich Strips check out the YouTube video below, visit http://www.npk.okstate.edu or contact me directly at b.arnall@okstate.edu.  I have lots of material I am happy to share and distribute.

See the YouTube Video  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kJ3DSwWYgE8

Response to NPKS strips across Oklahoma

From the fall of 2011 to about a week ago one of my grad students, Lance Shepherd, has spent A LOT of time burning up the highways and back roads of Oklahoma.  Lance’s project was titled “NPKS Strips in Oklahoma winter wheat”, basically an extension of the N-Rich Strip concept.  We wanted to see if we could or would find a response to added nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), potassium (K), or sulfur (S) fertilizer on top of the farmer’s fertilizer applications.  Over the two crop years lance applied NPKS strip on more than 80 fields from the Kansas border to the Red River.  Of those 80+ Lance was able to collect, by hand, grain samples from 59 sites.  Over the next few weeks I will be sharing some of the juicy tidbits we are gleaming from this fantastic data set.

NPKS applicator.  Gandy boxes hold each fertilizer and a pto driven fan blew the fertilizer down the boom.

NPKS applicator. Gandy boxes hold each fertilizer and a pto driven fan blew the fertilizer down the boom.

For the project at every site Lance collected soil samples to 18”, documented soil type and collected producer fertilizer, variety, and field history information.  Over the 59 locations there were essentially 236 trials.  The yield of each strip (N,P,K, and S) was compared back to a sample collected from the field, referred to as Farmer Practice. Of the 236 comparisons there were a total of 17 positive responses.  Of these 17 responses seven were to N, seven to P, three to K, with no responses to S.

N-Rich strip very evident in field west of Alva.  N-Rich 70 bu/ac Farmer Practice 38 bu/ac.

N-Rich strip very evident in field west of Alva. N-Rich 70 bu/ac Farmer Practice 38 bu/ac.

We are learning a great deal from these 17 locations.  The biggest take home was that in most instances soil test results identified the yield limiting factors.  For example of the seven responsive P locations six had either a low soil pH or low soil P index, some both.  At only one site was there a response not predicted by soil test.  Of all 59 harvested fields more than just six had low P or pH levels however most producers had applied enough fertilizer to reach maximum yield. For nitrogen two items proved to be the most likely reason for loss of yield, under estimated yield goal or environment conducive to N loss.  As for the K responses we look at both K and chloride (Cl) as KCl, 0-0-62 potash, was applied in the K strip.  Just looking at the soils data K was not low at any of the three sites.  However, two sites are in sandy loam soils, which is conducive to Cl deficiencies.  The lack of response to S was not surprising as soil tests indicated S was sufficient at all 80 locations were strips were applied.  So again what did we learn from these plots, soil testing is key in maximizing yield and profitability and in most of the N responsive sites the N-Rich strip indicated a need for added fertilizer in February.