Thanks to a good harvest season for spring planted crops last summer and fall, much of the area’s wheat crop was planted on time and has benefitted from mild winter weather up to February.

As a result of this perfect storm of economic and environmental criteria, much of the wheat in the Upper Southeast is in a similar situation as was the wheat Weisz showed at the field day last May.

Standing in front of what looked like a beautiful stand of wheat in Rowland, N.C., Weisz pointed out the obvious.

“If you look at this wheat, it looks pretty good.” He was referring to the wheat that had all the nitrogen applied in February.

Then he pointed out the not-so-obvious. “Notice the difference in color between the two plots. The all-in February plot was beginning to run out of nitrogen by mid-May, and to the trained eye it was clearly not going to produce as much wheat as the neighboring crop that had the same rate of nitrogen applied in mid-March.

The early nitrogen wheat also had much more disease pressure than the late planted wheat. “By putting out the full rate of nitrogen in February, wheat gets a big growth spurt, it gets tall quickly and grows to a thick stand early in the season. These factors make it much more vulnerable to diseases than later maturing wheat, Weisz says.

A third option is to use a split application of 60 pounds in February and 60 pounds in March. Under the growing conditions last year, which appear to be very similar to what the 2012 winter-spring conditions look to be, the split application did not yield as well as the one-time March application.

In another test plot, wheat was planted at a much lower seeding rate, producing a stand similar to what growers would find when they are delayed harvesting corn or cotton and don’t get their wheat planted on time.

“On these plots, we had less than 50 tillers per square foot in early February. This fits our criteria for putting out a split application of nitrogen,” Weisz says.

“By applying the full rate of nitrogen (120 pounds per acre) we stimulated tillering and produced more heads per square foot. The big dose of nitrogen did appear to give the wheat crop what it needed to recover from low February stand counts.”