Don’t hold back when fertilizing winter wheat unless conditions are dry

From the Sept. 12 issue of Alberta Farmer Express

Winter wheat has looked awfully good the last two springs, when late snow and rain created muddy conditions that kept seeders out of the fields. Every field of winter wheat means one less to seed when the weather is against you.

The extra bushels, generally at least 20 per cent more than spring wheat, don’t hurt either, especially with the Canadian Wheat Board’s milling-quality program now that it has developed a market that puts a premium on this type of wheat.
Once you’ve decided to grow winter wheat and picked a variety, the next question is how much fertilizer to apply at seeding. Alberta Agriculture’s Ross McKenzie has an answer for that question.

“Put all your fertilizer on when you seed,” says the agronomy researcher, who has run fertilizer trials for winter wheat across Alberta for many years and under just about every sort of weather condition.

“If conditions are very dry, as they are in the south this fall, I advise hedging your bets and put down 40 to 60 per cent of your nitrogen down with the seed. You can always put on more nitrogen in spring if conditions look good.”
Most areas north of Calgary have excellent moisture, he notes.

 “So I’d put down all the nitrogen with the seed. If we get some really good rains — say two to four inches in the first weeks of September — I’d put all the nitrogen down with the seed.

McKenzie doesn’t advise banding fertilizer in fall for winter wheat. It dries the soil out too much, and makes for a rough seedbed and poor seed-to-soil contact. Sideband, mid-row band or place with the seed, even with as little as 10 per cent seedbed utilization with a narrow knife.

For central and northern areas, McKenzie recommends 100 pounds of N (soil plus fertilizer) to take advantage of the yield potential due to good moisture conditions. To ensure the nitrogen is not leached away when soil is wet in spring, he recommends using ESN for half or two-thirds of the fertilizer N. For southern Alberta, with its drier soils, he says he is less concerned about leaching of N. If you want to be extra safe, he says, use urea for the first 25 pounds of N and ESN for the rest.

Phosphate is important for winter wheat, as it gives it better overwinter survival. McKenzie suggests 15 to 20 pounds of P for the south and 20 to 30 pounds for central and northern areas. And, if your area is deficient in potash or sulfur, put those on too.

“Winter wheat needs to get going and develop a strong crown before freeze-up for good winter survival,” he says. “So do everything you can to help it get going in fall. Direct seed into stubble, preferably fairly tall, to conserve soil moisture and hold an insulating layer of snow over the winter. And don’t seed too deep, half an inch to an inch deep is ideal even of that’s not to moisture.”

There are some specific varieties that McKenzie recommends.

“In the south, Radiant is probably your best variety, but watch for stripe rust symptoms next summer. Last year stripe rust overwintered and overcame Radiant’s single gene resistance,” he said. “In northern areas, Osprey is the best choice. It has the most winter hardiness of any winter wheat, and it has excellent quality ratings.”

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