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Struggles with Topdressing Nitrogen to Wheat
Author: Jason Kelley, Wheat and Feed Grains Extension Agronomist

Wheat Topdressing Struggles

It has been a struggle to get topdress nitrogen applied to wheat this winter to say the least. If the first application of nitrogen was not applied in late January or early February, chances are most have not been able to apply any nitrogen yet or the little nitrogen that has been applied lately probably was not applied under ideal conditions.  Some producers have been waiting to use a ground rig to apply nitrogen, but I just don’t see it becoming dry enough and quick enough to allow for this. Applying fertilizer by air is really the only option at this point.


Driving around looking at fields this week, there are a lot of yellow wheat fields, some definitely are showing stress from being water logged, some are yellow from lack of nitrogen and or sulfur, and most fields are probably showing a combination of water stress and nitrogen deficiency. There still appears to be many fields that have not had any spring nitrogen based on what some fields look like and the phone calls I have been getting.


So at what point are we losing yield if we have not gotten any spring nitrogen out yet? This is a complicated question, but in general if no nitrogen is applied by jointing (Feekes stage 6) then we are likely going to start losing yield. Of course this depends on how much residual nitrogen might be available from the previous crop or whether any fall nitrogen was applied last fall. Even if there was some residual nitrogen and the plants seem to be hanging on, it likely won’t sustain the plant long once the crop kicks off growing. At Feekes stage 6, the plant enters a rapid growth period and nitrogen demand increases greatly.  The photos below show the same plant at early Feekes stage 6

Hollow stem


























that I took on March 19th near Marianna, Ar.   Overall I would say the crop is about 10 days behind where we would normally see it for March 20th. Cold temperatures during the month of February and early March have slowed growth down.


Producers who have not applied any spring nitrogen yet or still have their second application to apply should consider applying as soon as the weather allows – hopefully next week. We don’t need to apply nitrogen to fields that are too wet or having standing water, but every day of delaying applications could result in yield reductions if we are at Feekes stage 6 or later.


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