Agronomy advice

Increase grain protein with well timed nitrogen

A well-timed application of nitrogen after the flag leaf final-dressing will increase the amount of nitrogen available to your crops during that crucial stage of protein development. Typically, protein levels can be increased by 1% through a well-timed application.

Spreader in a crop grain field
Spreader in a crop grain field
Typically, protein levels are increased 1% by late nitrogen

When growing milling wheat, everyone knows how important it is to hit that protein quality parameter; especially with wheat prices as they are. According to the AHDB Cereal Quality Survey, protein content still remains the limiting factor.

The top-up nitrogen application for milling wheat needs to be separate in order to build up the protein to the required level. Nitrogen source, rate and timing are important when trying to boost the protein to ensure the nitrogen is utilised correctly in the plant.

Applying foliar nitrogen means that the soil/root system is bypassed and therefore minimises the risks of nitrogen immobilisation, denitrification and leaching; all of which could occur with the traditional flag leaf application of nitrogen. The nitrogen uptake is also much less dependent on soil moisture and this means it is a more reliable source of nitrogen.

Increased nitrogen uptake

Without a well-timed late application of nitrogen, your crops may struggle to contain enough protein to satisfy the requirement for yield and quality.

Applying 40 kg N/ha which is 120kg/ha of YaraBela Extran, at growth stage 51 (which is the start of ear emergence) can increase grain protein levels by up to 1%. This is possible to achieve without then compromising the yield. Yara trials showed that the separate application later in the season gave a boost in both yield and protein when applied at end of booting/start of ear emergence.

For those on liquid systems then an application of foliar urea (such as Yara Nufol 20) applied later, at the milky-ripe stage, is the ideal timing for the same 40 kg N/ha. If unsure then err on the side of caution and go earlier rather than later to avoid disappointing results. It is also advisable to apply when the crop is most receptive for uptake, i.e. when conditions are cool such as the early morning or late afternoon.

Manganese and zinc are important too

However, if the plant is deficient in certain micronutrients you’re less likely to have a positive impact on protein levels. Manganese and zinc, in particular, are important in the metabolism of nitrogen. If nitrogen metabolism is improved then this increases the amount of nitrogen that is incorporated into the developing protein in the grain. Trials work, again, has shown that an application of zinc at T2 timing can increase grain protein by up to 1.4%!

Therefore it is important to ensure there’s no zinc deficiency if aiming for the milling premium - an application of YaraVita Mancozin or straight YaraVita Zintrac 700 will prevent this.

More information on increasing grain protein

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