Tillage management: Fertiliser application on cereal crops

This season to date has been a challenging period for tillage farmers and, as a result, only 50-60% of winter cereals have been sown nationally.

Rainfall levels were twice what would normally fall in February, leaving little opportunity for farmers to sow crops and implement their fertiliser programmes.

Take this opportunity to plan on how to get the best from your fertiliser and timings of fertiliser application, in order to hit the ground running when the weather improves. Avoid leaving it too late to order seed and fertiliser as there may be a lack of availability of stock and transport.

Winter cereals

Winter cereals are not as advanced at this time last year, which might be an advantage due to the difficulty in fertiliser application, as a result of current ground conditions.

Should a nitrogen (N) deficiency be apparent, it will express itself as a pale green to yellow colour on the leaves.

In order to maintain tiller numbers, especially in winter barley, it is important to ensure that crops are sufficiently supplemented with N. When ground conditions allow, apply fertiliser on winter cereals including winter barley, wheat and oats.

Now is also the time to address phosphorous (P) and potassium (K) requirements and some of your N and sulphur (S) requirements.

At Index 1 and 2, additional levels of P and K are required due to the lower nutrient status of the soil. Fertiliser application decisions should be made following recent soil analysis and the guidance of your advisor.

Your fertiliser regime should be developed to match offtakes and the soil fertility status of fields. Winter crops will require higher Potash blends, especially after large offtakes following the 2019 season.

Spring cereals

For spring cereals (barley, oats and wheat), if possible, it is important to put compounds into your seed bed, as this will encourage early root development.

Adjust N timings to suit end use of grain. For example, for malting barley, it is best to apply some N to your seed bed to reduce protein and meet specifications.

The demand for compounds with high levels of K is ever increasing over recent seasons. This is because of increasing yields with improved varieties and agronomic advice.

To meet this demand, many of the compounds developed by Target Fertilisers contain over 50% K with most also containing added S. The S recommendation for cereals is upwards of 15kg/ha per season.

Oilseed rape has a higher S requirement and will respond to applications of 20-30kg/ha.

Prior to planning your spring rotation and developing a fertiliser plan, you should consult with your advisor on a programme that best fits your needs and requirements.

Use of P, K and S in tillage compounds

When adequate K is applied to cereals it improves N use efficiency in the plant. Protein content, grain size and quality also increases, resulting in less screenings at harvest.

Cereal crops have a high K requirement due to the high amount of biomass produced in a short period of time and this demand is increased with the removal of straw.

K has many functions including water transpiration and increased drought resistance in the plant, root growth and improved nutrient uptake, maintaining plant chlorophyll, building cellulose and reducing plant lodging and brackling.

P, similar to K, will be required at levels to meet Index 3 status and a top up will also be required for Index 1 and 2 soils to raise these levels. It is important not to exceed the maximum levels allowed under SI 605 / 2017 for environmental reasons.

Most tillage soils are deficient in S, especially in areas of light or sandy soils and soils with low organic matter. This is because sulphate is mobile, water soluble and easily leached. S is a constituent element of two amino acids which are the building blocks of protein and is applied at a low level.

The most effective way to apply S to your tillage crops is within your NPK compound or through N application in the form of Target Fertilisers’ SuperCan CCF 27N 4S. Target Fertilisers includes S in most of its compounds as it is a cost-effective method of increasing N efficiency within the plant.

To learn more about Target Fertilisers’ range specifically developed for the tillage sector click here