Paying attention to fundamentals will help wheat crop 

Wheat. (Photo by Kay Ledbetter, Texas A&M AgriLife.)

Technical Sales Manager Keith Evans has seen many wheat crops in his career, and the challenges of drought for most of the 2023 crop in many parts of the High Plains are well-chronicled. 

Keith Evans. (Courtesy photo.)
Keith Evans. (Courtesy photo.)

Evans is with Mosaic and is based in Lincoln, Nebraska. His region includes Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma, and Texas. Evans says growers are more optimistic than they were a year ago as a result of timely rains beginning in late spring. 

“Prices (per bushel) remained good for wheat and fertilizer was not as expensive as last year so we’re seeing an increase in demand for fall fertilizer.” 

A year ago growers were seeing high prices as a result of the Black Sea conflict between Russia and Ukraine, as the war tightened supplies on fertilizer precursors and finished products on the global market. “Drought, pricing, and supply chain issues made growers less likely to put on any additional fertilizer, he said.” While not perfect, some of these factors have improved from last fall.  

Evans is a strong advocate of soil testing, and this year is no exception as growers should assess their nutrient levels in the soil. 

“If you don’t know what you’re dealing with, you’re just guessing what you need,” Evans said. 

In particular he wants them to get a close look at pH levels. Pennsylvania State University Extension notes in a bulletin that when the soil pH is between 6.2 and 6.8 most plants will do well. The pH is a measure of acidity and alkalinity, with 0 being extremely acidic and 14 extremely alkaline with 7 being considered neutral. When acidic soil is neutralized by liming, soil nutrients are made more available for the plants to absorb through their roots, the PSU bulletin notes. 

If the pH is balanced the plant will have a better chance at pulling in plant-available nutrients for healthy growth, he said, but tests do not end there. Evans said growers should evaluate their phosphorus levels with a realistic yield goal in mind and be aware of the removal rate of the crop. 

“They’re deciding how much phosphorus they want to put down with either MAP or a performance type product,” he said. “When you stop and think about when winter wheat germinates it is when soils are cooling in the fall. Studies have shown that phosphorus uptake slows in cooler temperatures, and phosphorus is critical for root growth and early stand establishment.” 

Phosphorus is tied to uptake of the micronutrients zinc and sulfur, he said, and growers need to also look at those minerals. A soil test can inform growers if they have adequate levels of micronutrients. In all, plants require a balance of 17 essential nutrients to maximize yields. 

Having a good plan for micronutrients—including zinc and phosphorus—is necessary, too. Research has shown an antagonistic phosphorus-zinc interaction can occur when soils receive high phosphorus application rates in soils low in plant-available zinc. 

“Making sure you have plenty of zinc in the soil is one way to know that your applied phosphorus uptake is maximized.” 

“Being a micronutrient, zinc does not need to be applied in large quantities but needs to be evenly distributed so all the plants in the field benefit from it,” Evans said, adding his company’s product MicroEssentials SZ, which includes sulfur and zinc in every granule, has shown a 4-bushel per acre yield increase over MAP in winter wheat. “Uniform nutrient distribution is critical.” 

If soil moisture is adequate, Evans said it may give producers confidence in double crop soybeans after harvesting wheat next year. He believes that with a tight window for planting, it is important to get the soybeans drilled as quickly as possible to maximize photosynthesis and growth in the shortened season of a double crop scenario. For growers contemplating planting soybeans after the wheat crop is harvested, a good practice would be to include additional fertilizer to the winter wheat in the fall for the following soybean crop. “You’ll be able to get right back in and plant those soybeans quickly without delay. We always recommend if you’re going to double crop soybeans into wheat stubble plan on putting that additional fertilizer down with the wheat in the fall. That single application in the fall saves money on multiple custom application trips over the field, but just as important it will save you time, and time is of the essence with a double crop.”  

Evans said for growers concerned with potential drought or heat stress, it is important to select varieties adapted to your area whether dryland or irrigated. Also, he said, try to establish a good stand to stay ahead of weed pressure. Weeds, he said, also consume water and nutrients. Good weed management starts with a pre-emergent plan, Evans said. Managing weeds means water and nutrients will go toward the intended crop. He said if a grower chooses to use tillage, keep in mind the loss of soil moisture associated with each tillage practice. “Choose varieties that can stand up to heat and drought and practice the fundamentals of good seed: soil contact, healthy stand establishment, and balanced crop nutrition.  

Evans said growers who have questions are encouraged to visit He said learning modules on essential elements plus information on field trials and the latest research are easy to find in the Mosaic library. 

Dave Bergmeier can be reached at 620-227-1822 or [email protected]. 

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