By Brian Hefty
If you want to increase the protein level in your wheat this year, there is only one thing you need to do…have greater nitrogen availability for your crop, especially late in the season.
Steps you can take to increase nitrogen availability:
- Before you do anything with nitrogen, you should always know the cation exchange capacity (CEC) of your land. When you test your soil, request a CEC test. It costs almost nothing, but it will tell you a lot. What we typically do is multiply CEC times 10. That will give you a rough idea how much nitrogen your soil can hold at any one time. If you have heavy ground with a CEC of 25, you have no issues, at least with today’s yield goals. However, if you have light soil with a CEC of 9, your ground can only hold about 90 total pounds. If it already has 30 pounds, you should not exceed 60 pounds with an application. I realize you’re probably not going to put 60 pounds on now, but think about fall or early spring when you usually load up on N. Did you lose that nitrogen? Well, you don’t know your risk level for loss if you don’t know your CEC.
- Apply more nitrogen. Again, you may have to split apply if you have light soil, but the point is without nitrogen you can’t achieve high yields or high protein. The other issue here is high yield. Quite often we find farmers with big yields complaining about protein levels. The reason why is the portion of their N that was supposed to go toward protein went instead toward better yield. Had they simply applied some more nitrogen, they could have had good yield and high protein. We like streambars to drip nitrogen down to the ground, but you need rain afterward. You can broadcast apply low rates of nitrogen, but leaf burn could occur, so add water and be careful. Also, we strongly encourage you to use a nitrogen stabilizer whenever you are applying higher doses of nitrogen. This will not only to help your soil retain the N until your crop needs it, but it will help keep the nitrogen in the ammonium form, which is easier and more efficient for plants to utilize.
- Increase the organic matter (O.M.) levels in your soil. Did you know that for each 1% of organic matter in your soil you can get 20 to 30 pounds of free nitrogen each year, not to mention the additional water it could hold (approximately 4% more water per 1% of O.M.)? Just think what a difference that would make in yield and protein each year.
- Improve other nutrient levels, too. If your crop is lacking in sulfur or micronutrients, it will not utilize nitrogen as efficiently. Don’t let your plants be nitrogen-wasters. It only costs a few bucks per acre to solve your sulfur and micronutrient issues. Also, don’t forget that nutrients like sulfur, boron, and chloride are leachable, meaning you should probably fertilize with them each year, just like you do with nitrogen. Additionally, I know P & K have been expensive, but they are also important in your crop, so make sure you have an adequate amount of each.
Again, nitrogen availability is the key to getting high protein, so address that on your farm for added profits this year and in the future.