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Update from the Field: Stand By Your Wheat

Posted by Dave Dyson, Agronomist on March 18, 2021

Just as Tammy Wynette used to stand by her man, wheat growers need to stand by their wheat.  Growers will only get out of them what they put in. If growers plant a proper population and fertilize the field properly, the yield can be astounding!   

Starting with a proper wheat stand begins with proper nutrition. A standard recommendation for fertilizer prior to planting wheat is 100lb/ac of potash, 100lb/ac of MAP, and 100lb/ac of AMS. If the incorrect amount of fertilizer was applied last fall, it is not too late to apply fertilizer to the crop. It is also necessary to plant the correct population in combination with a high-quality, low-salt starter, such as Season Pass® with MicroCarb®.  Michigan State University recommends a seeding rate between 1.4 and 2.2 million seeds per acre. Once the wheat reaches growth stage Feekes 4-5, it is time to count the main stems and the tillers, Figure 1. When counting the main stems and tillers, growers can compare the results to a chart from The Ohio State University to predict yields from the number of stems per square foot, Figure 2. 

Figure 1: This image shows the Feekes Stages of wheat. 

Figure 2: Wheat Yield prediction chart from Ohio State University.

Nitrogen (N) is the single most important nutrient for achieving high yields. Adequate nitrogen levels will allow the plant to grow bigger leaves and more shoots, with each leaf developing faster.  Nitrogen deficiency reduces the rate of primordia initiation, which reduces the number of potential grain sites.  The survival of the shoots and tillers that are produced can be influenced by interactions between nitrogen application rates and timing.  Where shoot numbers are below the optimum, the applications of higher nitrogen rates early in the season will increase shoots and thereby final head numbers. To ensure nitrogen stays in the root zone and not burn sensitive leaf tissue, apply UltraMate® Zn with N applications at a rate of 1 gallon per acre. 

Zinc (Zn) is an important micronutrient that affects the developing components of yield, such as the number of tillers and grain in the head. Zinc also improves the uptake of other nutrients, both macro and micronutrients. An Egyptian study, Figures 3 & 4, show increased tillers/meter, seeds/tiller, and the amount of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and micronutrients in the flag leaf when zinc was foliar applied. 

Figure 3: This study shows an application of foliar zinc increased the number of spikes or tillers per square meter by about 120 and the number of grains per spike or tiller by about 6.   

Ref: M.S. Zeidan et. Al. World J. Agric. Sci. 6 (6): 696-699, 2010 

Figure 4: This table shows the amount of nutrients in the flag leaf after Fe, Mn, or Zn was applied foliar. By adding zinc foliar, the plant uptakes more N, P, K and micronutrients resulting in an increase in tillers per meter and seeds per tiller. 

Ref: M.S. Zeidan et. Al. World J. Agric. Sci. 6 (6): 696-699, 2010 

In conclusion, stand by wheat fields and don’t neglect them.  Yields will reflect the time and fertility put into the wheat stand.  


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David Dyson

Dave Dyson is a regional agronomist for The Andersons’ Farm Centers which are located throughout Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana. He is an Indiana native and grew up on a dairy farm in Miami County. A graduate of Purdue University with a degree in Crop & Soil Science, Dave has a deep knowledge of various agronomic topics and is committed to helping growers improve their crops. If you have any questions, Dave can be reached at

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