21 Aug Winter Cereals: What Do You Need To Plan For?
As harvesters rolling many of you will be planning for winter cereal crops and seeding it soon. It is also time to ask yourself: How should I treat my winter crop differently than my spring crop? In this week’s edition of Growing Possibilities, we will be examining some of the important factors to consider when growing winter cereals, especially winter wheat, including the importance of plant-available soil phosphates.
Phosphate is essential for producing a healthy and high-yielding winter cereal crop, with winter cereals having a higher demand for it than their spring season counterparts (1). This can lead to a costly decision when it comes to fertilizers for the overwinter season. Applied phosphate fertilizer has an average efficiency of less than 50% (1), meaning more than half of the applied fertilizer will become bound in soil particles which are not available for plants’ uptake. Ultimately, this means all the phosphates in your fertilizer is not getting to your plants. During the overwinter growing season this is a larger concern, as cold temperatures increase the amount of phosphates bound in soil and further diminishes the plant-available reserves coming from the applied fertilizer. A winter wheat crop can require as much as 75 lbs/acre of P2O5, a tall order for applied phosphate fertilizers, especially over the winter (2).
An excellent option for ensuring your winter wheat’s phosphate needs are met while maintaining a low cost is to include a biological in your crop input plan that can solubilize these locked-up phosphates and make them available to plants. This increases the efficiency of your applied fertilizer, meaning you don’t need to apply as much of it, and unlocks phosphates already present in your soil, further decreasing your need for more fertilizer applications.
Another key to a good winter cereal crop is early development. Plants that have three or more leaves usually have more developed crowns, and plants going into winter with this development will fare better in the following spring (3). A larger population of plant stands in your crop is optimal going into colder months, as a denser population of stands will further increase your crop’s winter survivability (4). Seeding at a higher rate and using a crop input that stimulates and nurtures early plant development will make sure your plant stands are healthy and numerous when the snow starts to fall. Seeding into a field with a few inches of stubble is highly recommended. Leaving stubble from the previous crop on the field will help in trapping snow, which is necessary to insulate your winter crop from harsh winds and cold temperatures. Enough stubble to trap approximately 4” of snow on your field is ideal for protecting your winter cereal crowns and preventing winterkill (3).
Many growers may not be aware of the biological options for use on winter wheat. One such option is XiteBio® Yield+ for Winter Wheat, which solubilizes soil-bound phosphates, encourages early plant stand development, and can be applied in-furrow with starter fertilizers. Click here for further information.
1) The Efficient Use of Phosphorus in Agricultural Soils, The Fertilizer Association of Ireland in association with Teagasc, Technical Bulletin Series – No. 4, February 2019