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State wheat growers keep yield, protein in mind

“We’ve seen over the past couple of years where cooler conditions and good moisture can positively affect yield, but negatively impact protein levels in the crop.” 
DAVID MARBURGER
OSU EXTENSION SMALL GRAINS SPECIALIST

When wheat growers start planting their crops this fall, two equally important factors should be on their minds. One is yield and the other is protein.

Oklahoma's wheat crop for the past two years has had less than ideal levels of protein, according to Brian Arnall, Oklahoma State University Extension precision nutrient management specialist.

"Low protein wheat can create pricing and marketing challenges for everyone in the supply chain," he said. "Perhaps even more concerning is low protein is an indicator nitrogen was limited during grain fill and therefore, a field's maximum yield potential wasn't achieved.'

Some varieties offer higher protein, but the differences among varieties can be overshadowed by the environmental conditions at different locations, according to David Marburger, OSU Extension small grains specialist.

"We've seen over the past couple of years where cooler conditions and good moisture can positively affect yield, but negatively impact protein levels in the crop," he said. "We fertilized with our normal nitrogen rate to achieve our yield goal, and this usually provides an adequate protein content as well. But we've had better yields partly due to the better growing conditions, and therefore lower protein content. We can get the opposite, as well, especially with drought or other diseases, where there are less kernels or the kernels become small and shriveled. Now you have the same amount of nitrogen, but over less grain to put it in. So you might actually have a higher protein content."

Managing nitrogen and maximizing yield come down to ensuring nitrogen is available to the plant at important growth levels, he said. It is always best to apply nitrogen when the plant needs it, which is right after tillering for grain-only. In dual-purpose wheat, there's a need in the fall and again the spring, he said. 

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