, Farm Journal Seeds & Production Editor
Don't feel alone if you didn't get much wheat seeded this past fall. Even if you got wheat in, chances are you're not exactly confident about how the crop is going to look this coming spring.
"Don't give up on thin strands just yet,” says Scott Ebelhar, southern area agronomist for Beck's Superior Hybrids (the company also sells wheat seed). "Wheat is a pretty resilient crop.”
Here's what Ebelhar is telling wheat growers this winter:
Proper nitrogen management is key to making the best out of thin stands. Wait until green-up (Feekes stage 3) and take tiller counts. This also allows for a winter survival check. Shallow planting into heavy soils may result in increased heaving caused by freezing and thawing.
If tiller counts are below 70 tillers per foot squared, use split applications of nitrogen to maximize yield potential. An early application of nitrogen at Feekes 3 can help to encourage tillering, which helps increase head counts. Three-year data from Beck's southern Indiana Practical Farm Research (PFR) farm has shown a 2.1 bu. per acre advantage for split applications of nitrogen applied as UAN solution or urea compared to single applications of these products at Feekes 3.
Remember, applying all your nitrogen too easy can increase the risk of nitrogen loss – especially on wet soils that are prone to denitrification. The best time to make single applications of nitrogen is between Feekes 4 and Feekes 5 if stands are adequate. Nitrogen inhibitors can help minimize losses if growers prefer to apply nitrogen early on frozen soils. Data from Beck's southern Indiana PFR farm shows promising results when making single applications of ESN, a polymer-coated urea, at the Feekes 3 growth stage.
Apply nitrogen as evenly as possible. Applying UAN solutions with sprayers is probably the most accurate way of applying nitrogen. Automatic boom-section shutoffs and auto-steer have helped minimize lodging by virtually eliminating overlap of nitrogen in the field. Stream bars or stream nozzles also help to minimize leaf burns. Dry products, such as urea, should be applied with air-boom trucks to avoid uneven application.