Miles and Company based in Owensboro, Ky., operating several retail fertilizer and seed outlets in southern Indiana, helped bring the concept of intensive wheat management ot the U.S. over a decade ago. Already successful in Europe, the program has pumped out yields well over 100 bushels per acre when the weather cooperates.
However, Chuck Mansfield, Purdue University Extension agronomist based in Vincennes, cautions that deciding to split-apply nitrogen because your wheat looks good at topdress time in very late winter is not intensive management. That's just applying extra nitrogen in search of a few extra bushels. Split applications of nitrogen alone won't turn 70 bushel wheat into 120 bushel per acre wheat.
"Intensive wheat management is a whole package of things, beginning with picking the right variety, correct seeding rate, seeding properly, and fertilizing properly in the fall," he explains. "It also involves scouting, sue of insecticides and fungicides when needed, and just a lot of detail to management of the wheat crop."
If Mansfield's observations are correct, wheat acreage is likely to be down in Indiana for the 2009-2010 crop. Southwest Indiana is normally the strongest on wheat acreage because doublecropping with soybeans following wheat, and baling the straw for sale for various uses, including use in soil conservation mats, is a staple in that corner of the state. But this year, a combination of disease pressure in last year's crop, low crop price prospects for wheat and a terribly wet early fall have resulted in many farmers walking away from wheat there, Mansfield observes.
There was wheat planted, and some of it looks good. Some went in late, even in recent days, and while it has a good chance of making a crop, lack of fall tillering will make what happens next spring very important to yield potential, Mansfield says. Those certainly aren't fields that would be candidates for intensively-managed wheat.
"Sometimes someone will get to late winter, decide the wheat looks good and decide to split-apply N because they think they can pull off a big yield," he notes. "What you can do is limited."
In research plots near Evansville, Herb Ohm, a long-time Purdue wheat breeder and current acting head of the Purdue Agronomy Department, has achieved good yields using split applications of nitrogen. But he's including other practices as well in caring for the wheat, Mansfield says,
"His idea of split-application of nitrogen that he's tried in his plots may be different than a farmer's idea," Mansfield adds. He'll sometimes take the rate up much higher in total application than a farmer does. He's using the second application to add a lot more nitrogen."