Growing wheat that has higher protein levels can help improve the profits on your farm. Premiums for high protein hard red spring wheat have been paid for many years. There are practices that producers can implement to increase the odds of getting high protein wheat. Some of the activities can be controlled by the producer and some of the factors that control protein in wheat are controlled by nature. Planning to get a higher level of protein in a wheat crop starts the year before planting. The previous year’s crop will impact the level of protein in this year’s crop. Crops like canola and peas that are grown the year before wheat will increase protein levels in this year’s wheat crop because they release more nitrogen into the soil as they rot. Selecting the right variety of wheat to plant will increase the amount of protein that you have to sell. Applying the right amount of fertilizer (a balanced program) will increase potential protein levels in a wheat crop. All these things start the year before the wheat crop is planted. In the year of growing the wheat crop there are factors that you can control and ones that you cannot. Protein in a wheat plant is determined by two main weather factors. There needs to be enough growing degree days for the crop to achieve maturity. There needs to be enough moisture at the right time for the plant to achieve maximum yield. If either of these factors fall short in a growing season, the maximum yield and quality of a wheat crop cannot be achieved. We are still short on total accumulated heat this year but the rains in the last week have increased the moisture that the crop has available for yield production. This increased yield potential will make for more bushels of grain but will likely produce a lower protein wheat. The only way to match the rainfall and the fertilizer requirements with what most producers apply for nitrogen in the spring is to apply more at the flag leaf stage of the wheat. To do this a producer can consider top-dressing nitrogen. Top-dressing is not foliar applying nitrogen. If a field sprayer is used to apply liquid nitrogen, the liquid product will burn the leaves on the crop. Special equipment is required to top-dress nitrogen at the flag leaf of the wheat. Sprayers that are equipped with the right nozzles can be used to apply liquid fertilizer. Dry fertilizer must be treated or the right dry fertilizer selected to insure that the nitrogen gets in the ground. Each field needs to be looked at to insure the right application technique as well as the right nitrogen product is selected. Growing higher protein wheat is possible. Knowing what tools are available to do this is critical for success. Knowing how to use these tools is essential to insure that the maximum potential is achieved with applied fertilizer. If you are interested in what tools you can use to improve the protein in your wheat fields, give me a call.
By Dave Cubbon, P Ag