Focus on Winter Wheat Fertility this Spring

The best winter wheat spring management tip is to apply fertilizer as soon as you can get equipment on the field.

“To get going, winter wheat needs a little shot in the arm,” says Ken Gross, an agronomist and winter wheat expert with Ducks Unlimited Canada. “A little fertility early on will help it get going vigorously.”

Applying nitrogen too late may limit yield as the seed head for winter wheat is produced very early in the spring. Plants require early nutrition to develop the seed head to its greatest potential.

“If you can’t get there to fertilize the crop prior to the four leaf stage, it’s going to produce a smaller seed head with fewer florets. This impacts your yield,” Gross explains.

The recommended practice for winter wheat is to apply nitrogen in spring before the four-leaf stage, but there are advantages to applying it even sooner.

“Research shows that if you can get fertilizer on earlier, even before the plants start actively growing, you can get a 15 to 30 per cent yield increase,” Gross says. “For that reason, growers should enhance their fertility practices if they’re looking for optimum yields.”

Fertility trials in Manitoba

New winter wheat varieties are higher yielding, so Winter Cereals Manitoba Inc. and Ducks Unlimited Canada are looking to determine the best fertility program to maximize yield potential. With funding provided in part by the Canada and Manitoba governments through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, research trials and producer demos are examining different fertility regimes.

“Although we have only completed one year of the study, the early results are interesting,” says Gross. “For example, producers typically focus on nitrogen and phosphorous when fertilizing their winter wheat. Our field-scale producer demos are showing excellent results when the other macros, like potassium, are applied in a more balanced formulation.”

Last year, producer demonstration sites averaged 80 bushels per acre compared to the provincial average (55-60 bu/acre).

Gross says producers still have an opportunity to address any macronutrient needs required by their crop. “We recommend a soil test as a baseline measurement. This may be more important than ever as many annual crop yields were a disappointment last year, meaning residual nutrients may still be available.”

All producer demonstration sites had soil tests conducted by Western Ag who also supplied fertility recommendations.