"Emotional" wheat requires careful nutrient application

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Wheat is an emotional crop. It doesn’t cry or yell but it will tell you how it’s feeling, especially if it’s struggling in a field that’s compacted, has inadequate drainage, or is suffering from poor manure or nitrogen application.

“Wheat shows everything,” says Russ Barker, Corteva/Pioneer Hi-Bred agronomist, who joins OMAFRA cereals specialist Joanna Follings and RealAgriculture’s Peter Johnson in this Ontario Diagnostic Days video report from summer 2021. Together, the trio take a close look at what your wheat is telling you, including manure management, spread pattern variability, and nutrient deficiencies.

“Manure, especially liquid manure, is such a valuable resource that it makes sense to use it on wheat,” says Barker. But application and distribution can be challenging, “especially when you turn and swing spreader booms. In some areas, you end up with a rate of 7,000 gallons per acre and in other areas you get 2,000.”

The difficulty of achieving uniform spread pattern is one reason why Barker believes growers should rely on manure for only 50 to 75 per cent of the crop’s nitrogen requirement. He recommends that the remaining nitrogen needs come from precision-applied commercial nitrogen to smooth out availability across the field and ensure a more uniform spread pattern. (Story continues after the video.)

When it comes to nitrogen spread pattern for dry fertilizer, Johnson says some systems do better than others. Barker adds that new dry spreader technology will do a respectable job as long as growers keep one product in the bin. Overall, he doesn’t believe relying solely on a dry spreader is a good strategy: “I don’t think you can beat the uniformity you get with a liquid sprayer boom, Needham bar, or whichever system you use.”

But there are downsides to liquid. “If you drive wide you have a mess,” says Johnson. There’s also the possibility of wheat burn when applying liquid as part of a split application later in the season when the crop gets taller.

Barker and Johnson agree that even when growers have the best technology, it needs to be calibrated and operated correctly. “The nut behind the wheel is the problem most of the time,” says Johnson.

Click here to view the complete 2021 Ontario Diagnostic Days series.

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