When to apply nitrogen topdressed on wheat is a decision that may remind some people growing wheat again after many years of not growing it why they shied away in the first place. It's one of the key management decisions for raising soft red winter wheat in Indiana, and with wheat at record high prices, it's more crucial than ever. Yet the weather is making this one of the most difficult springs to apply N efficiently on wheat in the Hoosier state in quite some time.
Some 10 days ago, Kerry Graves, Greene County, was hopeful that he and a group of his neighbors who hadn't yet topdressed wheat had arrived at a solution. They were going to hire aerial applicators to apply half a rate of urea on wheat now. Then they would come back with liquid 28% N once they could get on the ground.
Reportedly, applying the urea was going to cost $12 in aerial application fees alone per acre. But with some wheat contracted at $10 per bushel and wheat prices on the open market for summer still hovering around $8 per bushel, it seemed like an easy decision. But once again weather derailed their plans. The grass runways that the planes needed to sue were even too soft to let them get airborne with the urea. At last report, the plan was still on hold.
Oldtimers are pulling out stories about how they didn't topdress wheat until may one year, yet it was the best wheat they ever raised. These stories are long on hope, but sketchy on facts and details.
Some people already opted to apply N on wheat, e specially in central Indiana, where soils didn't turn quite as soggy quite as early. But the dilemma facing folks who applied as early as January all the way through early March, the last time to make ground application without rutting fields, is how much of the N they applied is still left. That question may not be clear until wheat reaches reproductive stages. By them it could be too late to rectify any shortages that might appear because N was lost due to saturated soils and wet weather.
Whether the right decision as to apply early or wait is still in the balance. Part of the answer still depends upon how much longer soils stay wet, delaying application. So far fields that are starting to green up, as long as they had some N applied last fall, and especially if they're following soybean stubble, still seem green and healthy.
Some agronomists recommend splitting applications of N and not applying the final portion until this time of year anyway. That's to help wheat make the most efficient use of N. However, very few if anyone would normally recommend not applying any N in the spring until mid-April. Right now, it's a 'wait-and-see' time for wheat growers who haven't applied N yet this spring, as they keep one eye on their wheat and one on the weather.