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Winter Wheat Fertility Checklist for Fall

When growing winter wheat, it's good practice to match your fertility rates with your yield goals, as managing the health of winter wheat is critical for its success. To set yourself up for a great winter wheat crop, here's a fertility checklist:

  1. Soil test – it's important to know what residual nutrients are in the soil after the previous growing season.
  2. Ensure you use starter phosphorus (P) – it leads to rapid establishment in the fall and helps with recovery in the spring. It is also an antidote for fall applied nitrogen (N), which applied alone can reduce winter hardiness.
  3. Spring N is still the standard, but more are applying a portion of the crop's N needs in the fall. This lengthens the spring application window, which can be delayed if soils are too wet for April applications. Likewise, fall N helps bridge the crop needs if early spring N is stranded on dry soils.
  4. If potassium (K) is needed, get it into the soil in the fall at seeding since K is immobile in the soil. If it is the chloride (Cl) in potash (KCl) you are looking for, that is soluble and can be applied anytime.
  5. Sandy, high-pH, low-organic-matter (OM) soils are commonly low in copper (Cu) and winter wheat will respond there. Some have had success with split applications, some Cu in the fall at seeding followed by foliar Cu next spring.
  6. There are many, many options for N fertilization. In the past, fall applications were frowned upon due to potential N losses from the nitrate form, but enhanced efficiency products (controlled release or nitrification inhibitors) reduce the risk of overwinter and springtime losses.
  7. Nitrogen rates? It's time for a facelift of the provincial recommendations, as they are 23 years old. Stay tuned for new studies that will re-evaluate these recommendations.

Information provided by John Heard, Crop Nutrition Specialist with Manitoba Agriculture.