Fertilizer Management for the 2016 Winter Wheat Crop

Fertilizer Management for the 2016 Winter Wheat Crop

Sept. 3, 2015

Wheat harvest is complete and it's time to think about fall fertilization and next year's fertilizer needs. With adequate stored soil moisture in most of the winter wheat fallow areas in Nebraska, yield potential for next year's crop should be good.

In Nebraska when there is adequate moisture, profitable winter wheat production often requires nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) fertilization. Other nutrients may be needed for some fields, but most Nebraska soils supply adequate nutrients other than N and P. Because of generally high precipitation amounts in 2015, nitrate movement deeper into the soil profile is a possibility. Therefore, soil sampling to at least a 3-foot depth is recommended to determine residual nitrate and adjust N recommendations.  Nitrate should be sampled before each wheat crop. (See Guidelines for Soil Sampling, NebGuide G1740.)


Soil test results, fertilizer prices, and expected selling price for your wheat are used to calculate both nitrogen and phosphorus recommendations. (See Fertilizing Winter Wheat, UNL EC143.) As wheat and fertilizer prices can change, a good approach is to apply a small amount of N (20 lb N per acre) this fall, either row-applied or broadcast N. Use soil test results and watch fertilizer and wheat prices over the fall and winter to determine how much additional N might be applied next spring before jointing.  Based on a range of current prices for wheat and nitrogen (Table 1), it is still profitable to apply N.

Table 1. Nitrogen fertilizer recommendations for wheat.
Wheat Price ($/bu) $3.50 $4.50 $5.50 $6.50
Fertilizer Price $/lb of N $0.25 $0.50 $0.75 $0.25 $0.50 $0.75 $0.25 $0.50 $0.75 $0.25 $0.50 $0.75
Soil Test NO3-N ppm Nitrogen Application Rate (lb/ac)
2 100 45 0 110 70 30 115 85 50 120 95 65
4 75 25 0 90 50 10 95 60 30 100 75 45
6 55 0 0 65 25 0 75 40 10 80 50 25
8 35 0 0 45 0 0 55 20 0 60 30 10
10 15 0 0 25 0 0 30 0 0 40 10 0
12 0 0 0 0 0 0 10 0 0 15 0 0



Applying phosphate is also still profitable. Nebraska data shows up to a 20 bu/ac increase when applying P to low soil test levels and up to a 10 bu/ac increase when applying to medium P soils. The most profitable rate depends on the P source, wheat and fertilizer prices, soil pH, and the application method. Row or dual-applied P is a more efficient application method than broadcast. Newer ammonia applicators with coulters allow narrower application (15 inches) and also operate at shallower depths (5 to 7 inches), greatly reducing power requirements. This has been a standard practice with older knife (dual) placement which has been around for 20 years.

Dual-applied P and seed-applied P perform equally at optimum seeding dates (see recommended dates). Phosphorus recommendations in wheat depend on several factors. All information needed to determine P rates as well as example calculations are provided in Fertilizing Winter Wheat (UNL EC143).

Other Nutrients

Most Nebraska soils have adequate levels of all other nutrients (K, Zn, S) to produce good dryland wheat yields. Your biggest return on a fertilizer investment will be from applying nitrogen and phosphorus.

Gary Hergert, Tim Shaver, Charles Shapiro, Charles Wortmann, Richard Ferguson, and Brian Krienke
UNL Extension Soils Specialists

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