Wheat and water quality

While more farmers are thinking less about wheat in Ohio than they have in a very long time, the winter crop could be a factor in the water quality debate worth a bit more discussion. One important benefit of wheat is the crop rotation is a broader window for nutrient applications.

“If you look at the evolution of manure and fertilizer application, 50 years ago there was much more wheat grown in northwest Ohio and that was when most of the fertilizer was applied. As we have lost our wheat acreage that shifted most of our fertilizer application time and we are setting ourselves up for more nutrients on top of the ground in the fall. We have also had a lot more two-inch plus rain events. That number has doubled in the last 16 years. If you are going to have large rain events you are going to lose more nutrients off of your fields,” said Glen Arnold, a manure specialist with Ohio State University Extension. “Then when we get fall rains harvest is delayed, fertilizer application is delayed and then things get bottlenecked.”

A late June or early July wheat harvest allows for earlier nutrient application under often ideal conditions along with providing a good timeframe for planting cover crops or double-crop soybeans to harness the nutrients before they get the chance to leave the field.

There may also be opportunities to apply nutrients, including manure, to wheat after planting. There is research being conducted in the application of manure onto wheat after fall planting. Fall conditions soon before or soon after planting wheat are often ideal for applying manure that could be very beneficial for the crop and the livestock producer.

“Several livestock producers have inquired about applying liquid dairy or swine manure to newly planted wheat fields using a drag hose. The thought process is that the fields are firm (dry), there is very little rain in the nearby forecast, and the wheat crop could take advantage of the manure nutrients, especially the nitrogen portion, to promote growth and fall tillering,” Arnold said in a recent CORN Newsletter. “The manure nutrients would essentially replace the commercial fertilizer normally applied in advance of planting wheat. The application of fall-applied livestock manure to growing crop can reduce nutrient losses compared to fall-applied manure without a growing crop.”

Arnold said that burning the plants is a possibility so the manure application needs to be done with care and timed appropriately.

“If the wheat is planted at its typical one-inch depth and swine or dairy manure is surface applied there should be no problem applying 4,000 or 5,000 gallons per acre of manure. If the wheat is emerging when manure is being applied, there is the possibility of some burn to the wheat from swine manure. If the wheat is fully emerged, there is little concern for burning,” he said. “OSU Extension has conducted research studies involving incorporating manure ahead of planting wheat in October. While the results were good, yields were not as high as expected due to the delay in getting the manure applied and waiting for suitable conditions to plant the wheat crop. Both years of the research trial the delay ended up being over two weeks due to rain and this did not allow the wheat crop to become well established and tiller before cold weather arrived. If incorporating manure ahead of planting wheat, try to place the manure deep enough  — at least three inches — so the manure does not impact the germination and emergence of the wheat crop.”

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