Oklahoma wheat producers should be actively engaged in accurately assessing their crops’ topdress nitrogen requirements, according to Oklahoma State University’s Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources.

“Oklahoma is the fourth-largest wheat producing state in the nation, producing more than 127 million bushels annually on average, with every acre being an investment in time, energy and money to the producer who planted it,” said Jeff Edwards, OSU Cooperative Extension small grains specialist.

With so much acreage to cover, some producers naturally will start earlier than official management recommendations and some will begin later.

“When we provide recommendations, we give out the optimum range to perform certain activities, such as topdressing,” Edwards said. “There is generally some leeway at either end of the dates given for producers to respond to their specific management needs and situations, but nitrogen must be in the rooting zone by jointing.”

As in all years, a producer needs to look at how many acres he or she has to topdress and the capacity to cover those acres.

“Producers who use a custom applicator may be at the mercy of the applicator’s availability, so they need to get on the applicator’s schedule now, if they have not done so already,” Edwards said. “Those who have the expertise and equipment to do their own topdressing have a bit more flexibility.”

Edwards added that nitrogen fertilization remains an excellent return on investment, even at current prices.

“It takes less than $1 of nitrogen to produce a bushel of wheat that’s currently worth more than $8,” he said. “Very few crop inputs provide that kind of bang for your buck.”

Adequate topdress nitrogen not only increases crop yield but also ensures adequate grain protein.

“Wheat is a $1 billion-a-year industry in Oklahoma, on just the grain side alone,” Edwards said. “It is a buyers’ market; millers and bakers no longer have to accept poor-quality or low-protein wheat. Anything that could negatively affect the protein content of the grain, leading to price discounts, is a matter of concern relative to Oklahoma’s reputation in the wheat flour marketplace.”