The North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services reminds growers that properly timed nitrogen applications are essential to the growth and development of wheat.

An estimated 800,000 acres of wheat have been planted across the state this winter, and managing fertility now is the best way to optimize yield, department agronomists say.

To get a quick and accurate recommendation of how much spring nitrogen to apply, collect samples of wheat leaves and send them to the department’s Agronomic Services Divisionfor plant tissue analysis.

“Tissue sampling should begin when wheat reaches Zadoks growth stage 30 (GS-30),” said Dianne Farrer, NCDA&CS regional agronomist. “Rate of growth depends on variety, planting date, environmental conditions and location, with wheat in eastern counties reaching GS-30 soonest.

“When wheat begins to stand up tall and straight, pull several plants, split the stems from the top to the base and look for the growing point. Before GS-30, it will be just above the roots; at GS-30, it will have moved about one-half inch up the stem.”

Farrer and fellow regional agronomist Ben Knox expect most wheat in the eastern and piedmont regions of the state to reach GS-30 sometime between March 1 and 5.

Carl Crozier of North Carolina State University says it isn’t advisable to apply nitrogen before wheat reaches GS-30, because new growth at that time would be susceptible to cold injury. On the other hand, he says, it is a mistake to wait until after jointing to put out nitrogen because of the potential for damage by application equipment.