Improving Winter Grain Yields, Quality, and Nitrogen Use Efficiency Using Adaptive Management


Small grains have gained importance in New England agriculture over the last decade due to expanding demand for local sources for food and feed. Growers are particularly interested in grains that are planted in the fall (winter wheat, spelt, triticale, rye) because they provide numerous rotational benefits, produce high yields, scavenge residual soil nitrogen (N), and protect the soil from winter erosion. Recent grower surveys indicate that N fertility management is a key production challenge for winter grains, which involves providing enough N at the right times to optimize yields and, in the case of bread wheat, grain protein. Readily available N applied at planting is subject to over winter losses via leaching and volatilization; and mineralization of organic N sources is difficult to predict and lags behind crop demand in the early spring. The goal of this project is to develop an adaptive N management strategy to improve N-use efficiency, reduce environmental N losses, and increase revenue for winter grain production. The adaptive N procedure uses early season tiller counts to determine N needs of the wheat crop. This approach is used successfully in other humid regions of the U.S. and has shown promise in local preliminary trials. On-farm trials are being conducted to develop this new N management tool for New England grain farmers. Therefore, in April 2014, the University of Vermont Extension- Northwest Crop and Soils Program established an on-farm trial at Four Star Farms in Northfield, MA

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