Winter Wheat Fertility Considerations

It’s been a tough season for wheat so far.  It started wet and has stayed wet, so for a crop that doesn’t do well in saturated soil, we’re struggling in a lot of fields.  Most fields are showing a brownish red tint instead of the green that we’re used to.

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A closer look at the plants shows the older leaves have a purple tint to them and some are necrotic.

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This is indicative of phosphorus deficiency.  The grower’s soil test showed sufficient levels of P, so this is probably being caused by the cold, wet soil.  In a large number of fields the wheat is poorly tillered as well.  While this can be an effect of P deficiency, its also an indicator that we need to add some nitrogen.  To double check this, we can do a tiller count.  We want to see at least 50 tillers per square foot, so on a 7.5″ spacing, so we would need to count the number of tillers in 19″ of row (7.5 x 19 = 144 square inches or 1 square foot).  Here is a picture of some wheat plants that have been dug up so the tillers are easier to distinguish.

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Left – 3 tillers, Center – 3 tillers, Right – 4 tillers

If we are below 50 tillers, it would be a good idea to apply 30-40 lbs of N now and another 30-40 lbs before jointing starts in the spring.  For more information on fertility and wheat production, take a look at Clemson’s Wheat Cheat Sheet:  Wheat_CHEAT_sheet_2015-16

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