As we approach Easter here at the end of March the wheat crop across southern Illinois looks very good on the whole. Planting right at the fly free date, mild fall temperatures and adequate soil moisture aided in the establishment of a very good stand. The milder than usual winter has also aided in producing the nice, beautiful stands we see across the region.

The only issues to date have been water ponding from heavy winter rains and some freeze/ice damage done right after some of those rains in February. This has left some low or wet areas with poor stands that recent rains have further injured. Aside from these issues wheat looks good. Really, almost too good.

One concern of late has been trying to get the first shot of nitrogen on. In many cases the wheat has never really gone dormant or has not be dormant for very long. Again, the issue is with several weeks of potentially cold weather ahead one doesn’t want wheat to begin to grow and joint too fast. Tillering is not a concern in many fields, as with great stands there is no need to increase head count or fill in thin areas of the field. So, many have opted to wait to apply their N in one application.

Caution needs to be taken when considering the one-pass N application. Consideration needs to be given to adjusting the total N rate down to avoid lodging. Downward rate adjustments of 15 – 20% should be considered when making a second pass much later in the growing season in place of the early application that many have missed.

Another thing to be aware of with the lack of dormancy and the weather conditions we have had the last few weeks is early jointing. Applications of herbicides need to be made prior to jointing. This again may be a challenge with field conditions in light of recent rains. I urge producers to check fields for jointing now and monitor closely before they apply any herbicide.

One thing to avoid, in the name of cost cutting or timeliness, is to mix and apply nitrogen and herbicides together on wheat. Studies show that, in most cases, the yield loss from mixing and applying together is far greater than the cost of an additional application trip. Adding products to reduce burn or cosmetic damage does not stop unseen damage from a combination application.

In all cases it’s best to scout, apply good BPM’s and manage your wheat for highest return on investment.

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About the Author: Kelly Robertson

Kelly was raised on a family farm in Benton, Illinois and graduated from Southern Illinois University (SIU)-Carbondale with a bachelor's in agriculture education and mechanization, and a master's in plant and soil science. He has spent 25 years as a soil fertility agronomist and precision agriculture consultant in Southern Illinois while also spending 4 years as a Farm/Agronomy Manager and GIS Coordinator for a large farm in southeastern Illinois. He is a Certified Professional Agronomist and a Certified Crop Adviser and was the Double-Crop Specialist for the Illinois Soybean Association in 2015.