Fertilizer prices are through the roof, but trying to skimp on fertilizer will reduce potential yield later in the season.

There have not been many wheat fields that I have checked in recent days that would not benefit from some nitrogen (N) fertility. Like corn, early wheat development has a direct impact on potential yield. There are chapters on small grain fertility and development, but I am going to try and explain it briefly.

After planting and up to mid-February wheat is developing tillers. Each tiller will eventually produce a stem and seed head. Tillers that develop in fall and early winter produce the larger seed heads. Larger seed heads equals greater yield. Late winter and early spring tillers are still important but the biggest yields comes from fall tiller production.

From the fields I have checked most wheat is at the 3 leaf or 2 tiller stage of growth. With our seeding rates and stands that puts us well under 50 tiller per square foot. The goal for well tillered wheat is around 100 tillers per square foot. I am recommending applications of 30 – 40 pounds of N now to boost tiller production.

If you are unsure of what your tiller counts are a general rule of thumb is if you see more dirt than green you are below 50. If you have patchy dirt between green plants you are around 50 and well tillered wheat will be shading the soil. Be sure to get out and ground check a few fields. A weedy field can look well-tillered from the road at 45 mph.

For more information on small grain fertility and nitrogen management contact your County Agent.

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