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Trim Winter Wheat Costs
Much has been made of reducing costs for soybean and corn
producers this year. Yet, wheat growers already have their crop planted.
Cutting costs for these farmers, then, focuses on spring and summer activities.
"If we're talking about reducing expenses in wheat, the focus almost has to be on fertility," says Doug Shoup, agronomist
for Kansas State University's southeast area Extension office. "The easy
answer is to buy a Greenseeker, which will help producers make their nitrogen
recommendations this spring."
A handheld Greenseeker device costs about $500. It emits its
own light source, and measures reflectance of the plant's greenness to the light source. Numeric readings from the device can be plugged into algorithms developed by Oklahoma State University
and Kansas State University, to help growers obtain a more accurate measure of the
amount of nitrogen fertilizer needed to obtain maximum yield.
"I think the Greenseeker does a phenomenal job of
predicting how wheat will yield. It's a neat tool and has a lot of validity. It
will be accurate 90% of the time, and is better than guessing what to apply based on yield goals," Shoup
Research at Oklahoma State University's Lahoma Research
Station backs that up, says Brian Arnall, soil fertility specialist at OSU.
"The rule-of-thumb may be 2 pounds of nitrogen per bushel of expected yield, but if you look at it temporally, the nitrogen-per-bushel requirement changes with environment,
growth pattern, moisture, and temperature," he says.
In 2008, wheat yield at the research site reached 82 bushels
per acre, on just 100 pounds of applied nitrogen. In 2010, wheat yields were 50
bushels per acre on 100 pounds of applied nitrogen.
"For 20 years we've been basing nitrogen
application on yield expectations. But total yield has little to do with
nitrogen rate," the researcher adds. Therefore, a tool like the handheld Greenseeker can pay off with a nitrogen recommendation that is much more precise.
When wheat was $7 per bushel, spring applications of
herbicide and fungicide were easily justified. That's not the case now.
Agronomists and chemical companies often recommend fungicide
applications as a way to ensure plant health. Shoup recommends waiting to see
whether incoming disease patterns actually merit a fungicide application. Leaf
and stem rust typically move north into the Wheat Belt from the Gulf of Mexico.
Damp, windy springs will be an indicator of whether a disease threat is
looming. For head scab, check this Alert, hosted by Penn State University: http://www.wheatscab.psu.edu.
But don't plan on making a fungicide application just
because, Shoup says. "I'm going to wait on fungicide until I know it's
A spring herbicide application, on the other hand, has a
greater chance for payback. Stopping moderate to severe henbit, cheat, or downy
brome infestations can improve yield 5 to 10 bushels per acre, which easily
covers the cost of the herbicide.
"Finesse and Ally are good options that are relatively
inexpensive. If you save a bushel per acre, it more than offsets the
cost," he says.