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Ensure your winter triticale yields protein

Injecting manure is an option, but that depends on what you did last fall.

Tom Kilcer

March 28, 2022

5 Min Read
man standing in tall field of winter triticale
TRICKY TRITICALE: As farmers use high-yielding management packages for their winter triticale, adjustments need to be made to supply enough nitrogen and sulfur to support both yield and forage crude protein. (Photos by Tom Kilcer)Photos by Tom Kilcer

Most farmers growing winter triticale forage with the high-yield management package are getting yields above what they expected, yet their protein is less than what they wanted.

With high soybean meal prices, this lack of protein hurts.

As I pointed out in a previous column, a 3-ton winter forage dry matter yield will remove 192 pounds of nitrogen at 20% crude protein. Insufficient nitrogen (and sulfur) will not only limit the protein of the crop but also drain the soil of available nitrogen, so when corn is planted afterward, it does poorly the first couple of weeks.

A Band-Aid answer is to put some pop-up nitrogen in with the corn. But the better answer is to put enough on the winter triticale, as any not used will be there to supply the corn.

Location determines timing

Some growers spread manure and immediately plow down in early September before planting the winter forage. My research and that of Penn State University researchers is that this is not recommended north of the Mason-Dixon line. Simply put, the money you save on fertilizer does not offset the yield loss from the later planting. You are much further ahead to get the triticale in and inject the manure in November.

signs of insufficient nitrogen on a high yielding winter triticale forage
NITROGEN NEEDED: Insufficient nitrogen on a high-yielding winter triticale forage can not only reduce your forage crude protein, but also can adversely affect the next corn crop.

Falls are longer and warmer as you go south of Pennsylvania. You have more time to apply 4,000 to 6,000 gallons of manure before planting triticale, which can increase fall growth and boost spring yield. We have recorded storing up to 120 pounds of nitrogen per acre in fall vegetative growth.

My research and that of Quirine Ketterings of Cornell University both show that, in the fall, for every additional pound of dry matter you are growing, you store 22% crude protein, or 70 pounds of nitrogen per ton of dry matter. This reduces the amount of manure you must inject in November or December, or the amount of N you must purchase next spring to meet all the nitrogen and sulfur needs of the spring crop.

In our research we tried plowing down manure in early September. The next spring, the 3-ton-per-acre dry matter yield had no increase where we added more nitrogen in the spring. In the study, we found that at the 0 spring nitrogen rate, we had 9% crude protein. Where we put 120 pounds of nitrogen, plus sulfur, we got 19% crude protein. But the early-September manure did not carry through.

We calculated that the payback in soybean meal that didn’t need to be bought due to added spring fertilizer was $2.50 for every $1 spent on nitrogen.

We repeated the study and injected 8,000 gallons an acre of manure just before planting in one plot, and later in fall — the last Monday in November — in another plot. The early-injected manure still needed 126 pounds of spring N to get to 20% crude protein, but the late-applied plot only needed 65 pounds of spring N to get the same crude protein. If we had applied 12,000 gallons instead of 8,000 gallons in November, we would have achieved the 20% crude protein without any spring-applied nitrogen.

Injection window still open

The best time in fall to inject manure is after the soil temperatures drop below 50 degrees F. Before then, you have the potential to lose a significant amount of nitrogen.

If you didn’t get a chance to inject manure into your winter forage crop in December, you still have a chance right now — as soon as the soil is trafficable.

Broadcast manure on triticale

BEFORE BROADCASTING: Broadcast manure on triticale is counterproductive, as 75% of the nitrogen is lost in volatilization. The remaining manure is insufficient to meet the needs of the crop. Rain does not wash it off, so you are taking a huge risk — as manure mixed with high-quality silage is a prescription for health disaster when fed to dairy cows.

If you planted on time and have 6 to 10 inches of growth, it would have taken up approximately 50 pounds of nitrogen, especially if the field had manure spread the prior spring before corn. For a 3-ton dry matter crop, we suggest 9,000 to 10,000 gallons of manure injected, depending on what your manure tests. This, along with the fall nitrogen uptake, will supply enough for the total of 192 pounds of N needed to reach 20% crude protein.

Drag hose best, topdress not

A drag hose system is preferred as it keeps the heavy, soil-compacting tires off the field. Watch your forward speed, as greater than 3 mph will tend to bring up more stones.

We also suggest a relatively narrow coulter attach angle of 4 degrees to disturb less sod and to lessen the chance of stones lifted that would affect the mower or chopper. If you need to use a manure spreader to inject, we suggest keeping tire pressure below 15 psi (if your tires are designed for it), as Canadian research found this reduces compaction.

We do not suggest topdressing manure on winter forage, especially on a crop that is 6 inches or taller. The manure will hang on the forage, and rain will not wash it off.

Adding insult to injury, 74% of the nitrogen you apply will go off into the air, doing nothing for your crop. To get enough nitrogen you would have to apply 36,000 gallons of manure, essentially burying the crop in it.  

So, we strongly suggest against topdressing. If you can’t inject, we suggest using fertilizer N — with an antivolatilization agent, so the crop gets all the nitrogen you paid for — and sulfur in an 8-to-1 nitrogen-to-sulfur, or 10-to-1 ratio of N to S, to maximize protein and yield.

Save the manure for cornfields, where you can immediately incorporate it.

Kilcer is a certified crop adviser in Rutledge, Tenn., formerly of Kinderhook, N.Y.

About the Author(s)

Tom Kilcer

Tom Kilcer is a certified crop adviser in Kinderhook, N.Y.

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