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Come walk the crop with us – N management in wheat project

By Isabelle Piche, Crops Summer Student; Kaeley Kindrachuk, AT, B.App.Sc., Crops Extension Specialist; and Mitchell Japp, MSc, PAg, Provincial Specialist, Cereal Crops

The June 20 #SKcropwalk focused on a wheat nitrogen management project at the Indian Head Agriculture Research Foundation (IHARF). The nitrogen (N) trials discussed during this #SKcropwalk are also being conducted in Scott, Sask., and three Alberta locations (Lethbridge, Edmonton and Barrhead), with the possibility of two additional locations in 2020 (Vermillion and Beaverlodge).

The project is titled “Integrating N fertilizer technologies with superior genetics to optimize protein in CWRS wheat without compromising yield, 4R principles and environmental health”. The goal of the project is to better understand the environmental and economic benefits of enhanced efficiency fertilizers (EEF) compared to conventional sources. The results may also be helpful in reducing N losses by improving N recovery.

This project is funded by:

  • Alberta Wheat Commission;
  • Saskatchewan Wheat Commission;
  • Alberta Agriculture & Forestry;
  • Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada;
  • Koch Agronomic Services;
  • Corteva;
  • Nutrien; and
  • Western Ag Innovations (soil analysis).

In the second video the 4R principles were described, in addition to a discussion of the treatments included in the project to determine the fit with the 4R principles. The first R is right source or form. As part of the study, six different types of N, covering five major EEFs and untreated urea, will be investigated. The second R is the right rate; to better understand this, a broad range of N rates (60 to 240 kg/ha) are included in the study. Lastly, the third and fourth Rs are the right time and right placement. In the study, three different nitrogen timing and placing combinations are being investigated:

  • All N banded at seeding;
  • Thirty per cent of N banded at seeding, 35 per cent applied in-crop at Feekes growth stage (GS) 4 and 35 per cent applied at GS10; and
  • Sixty-five per cent banded at seeding and 35 per cent applied in-crop at GS10.

According to the Feekes staging system, GS4 to 5 is called “greening up,” which occurs shortly after tillering and just before stem elongation. At roughly GS5, the head size is already set. At GS10, the head is in the boot, and the system begins using a decimal system throughout heading. At this growth stage, the fertilizer will be applied during booting.

Over a long period, genetic potential, on-farm yields and nitrogen application levels have increased. This results of this research project will help agronomists and producers make the best decisions for their N application.

The third video focused on what can be done on the farm now, with one of the highlights being top dressing. In Saskatchewan, the most consistent response to nitrogen application has been application at seeding time. Often the data is difficult to interpret with top-dressed nitrogen, particularly if the conditions for application were not ideal.

If you’re contemplating top-dressing nitrogen, there are certain things that you should be aware of:

  1. Start with a soil test and fertilizer application at seeding based on a target yield and protein goal. If conditions are suitable for increased yield potential or the market conditions are right for a protein premium, consider a top-dress application.
  2. The timing of the N application will depend on what the expected result is (e.g.: higher yield or higher protein). Later top dressing will provide the plant with higher protein content, but will not likely affect the yield. An early N application in the spring, meanwhile, may have a greater impact on the yield. Consider the costs of top dressing versus the net return based on the price of protein before application, to ensure it is economical.
  3. Nitrogen moves with water; therefore, rain is required for the N to move into the soil far enough for the roots of the plants to be able to take it up.
  4. Lastly, nitrogen has the ability to burn the leaves, which must be controlled to keep the plant as healthy as possible.

Watch for more information on this project as it develops. It is currently in the first year and will continue until 2023.

For more information about crop staging, visit the Guide to Crop Protection, our N management webpage or the Purdue University’s article on Managing Wheat by Growth Stage.

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