Record rains last spring, summer and fall across much of the Upper Southeast have left soils poorly adapted to producing a wheat crop this winter, says North Carolina State Small Grain Specialist Randy Weisz.

Speaking at the recent North Carolina Crop Consultants meeting, Weisz said that basically last year’s nitrogen is gone and so are potash and sulfur in all but the heavy clay soils in the Piedmont region.

Wheat needs at least 30 pounds of nitrogen per acre pre-plant in the fall, then another 60 pounds or so in late January and another 30-40 pounds in March.

The January-February application of nitrogen is especially critical if tillers are thin.

Even in fields where wheat tillers appear to be thick, it is a good idea this year to scout regularly for signs of nitrogen stress, the North Carolina State specialist said.

“With the amount of rain and cool weather we’ve had before wheat was planted, and even into the winter, this is a good year to keep a close watch on the crop for any signs of stress.

“In many areas of the state, it’s a good bet that all the potash and sulfur are gone. It’s best to correct shortages of these nutrients with fall application, but it will likely be better to fix the problem late, than to not fix it at all,” Weisz said.  “For sure, growers don’t want to wait and see whether  or not they have phosphate and potash deficiencies — not this year,” he added.

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“This is a good year to act quickly on yellow wheat. Getting soil and tissue samples out and back quickly will be critical in getting proper nutrients to wheat. On some of these nutrient-related problems, if you wait too long, they cannot be turned around, though most can be overcome by quick reaction to stress, the North Carolin specialist says.

Warm days and freezing nights, combined with plenty of moisture has created a situation in which many growers are seeing symptoms in their wheat that looks like winter kill. There is plenty of evidence that this unusual late fall-early winter weather pattern has created stress that has left wheat around the state with what looks like winter kills.