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Target applications to maximise protein %

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In what has been a challenging spring for many farmers across the UK, winter wheat crops have come out of it looking well and the potential in many areas is good. The challenge now is to ensure that you help your crops reach the best condition they possibly can over the coming months.

AHDB figures tell us that over the last twelve years only 27% of grain tested reached the full Group 1 milling specification. In some years it has even been as low as 3%. Of the three qualities needed –protein, specific weight and Hagberg – it is protein which has the lowest pass rate each year. With that in mind, how can you make sure that you reach the 13% protein target?

Nitrogen rate

Firstly, ensure that your nitrogen rates are correct for the potential of your crop. High yielding milling wheat such as Skyfall, for example, will take up over 300kg/N across the season from natural soil supplies and fertiliser nitrogen. Remember, bagged nitrogen fertiliser is only 60% efficient so not everything applied will be taken up by the crop.

With any applications you should always take into account the maximum amount of nitrogen you can apply each year (the N-max limit). With milling wheat, N-max shouldn't be an issue however always ensure you comply. Remember:

  • 1.Wheat N-max in England is 220kg/ha nitrogen for 8t/ha
  • 2.You can add an extra 20kg/ha nitrogen for every tonne expected above 8t/ha (based on historic on-farm yields)
  • 3.For milling varieties, add 40kg/ha nitrogen
  • 4.Ensure available nitrogen from muck is accounted for in the total, alongside that applied from bagged fertiliser.

You can read more about the limits here.

Application timings

Many growers will have now applied their main doses of nitrogen, through either solid or liquid applications. If N-max allows, it is worth considering a liquid foliar application to the ear to push protein levels later in the season once the yield potential has been set. If you regularly miss the milling standard, it can be worth reviewing your nitrogen plan going into next season. Some questions to consider include:

  • Should I be doing four splits instead of three?
  • Do I need to swap from urea to ammonium nitrate to reduce the risk of lost nitrogen?

How can SOYL's variable rate nitrogen service help?

Using the service for the foliar application can help ensure those potential high yielding areas of the field do not suffer protein dilution and cause you to miss out on those all important premiums.

Over the last ten years, SOYL has done continuous on-farm trials comparing flat rate applications and variable applications using SOYL's Nitrogen Canopy Reverse model for the final nitrogen application. We have consistently seen higher proteins when using variable rate over flat rate. In the example below, we saw an average 1.28% protein increase through targeted applications. This could be the difference between getting your premium on milling wheat or missing out.

To back up these individual on-farm trials, we have collated results to compare variable rate nitrogen users against none users over a number of years. As you can see from the below, we have constantly seen improved grain protein, irrelevant of the year. In 2014 where yields were high (naturally causing grain protein dilution), using nitrogen in the correct areas late in the season ensured that average proteins were higher for our customers. 

How do we go about this?

At this stage in the season, the most forward areas of each field have the greatest prospective yield. However, they are also most at risk of protein dilution. Using SOYL'sown Canopy Reverse Nitrogen model, variable rate application will allow you to target these areas with an additional 25 kg/ha of nitrogen (above your base rate).

In the highest biomass areas, your 'spot yields' may be two-to-three tonnes above the field average. These areas can benefit significantly when targeted with an additional dose, as both yield and protein levels can be increased.

Considering the above, below is a summary of the key points you can address to get the most from your crop:

  • 1.Am I applying enough nitrogen for my crop's potential?
  • 2.Does N-max allow me to consider a liquid foliar dose?
  • 3.Can SOYL's variable nitrate service help me avoid protein dilution?
  • 4.Should I be reviewing my nitrogen plan for milling wheats next year?

If you are interested in doing your foliar application on winter wheat variably to help ensure you reach the protein specification, do not hesitate to email SOYL at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call the team on 01635 204190. 


Gavin Campbell
Applications Team Leader 

Frontrunner - 1st June 2018
Frontrunner - 25th May 2018

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Friday, 14 August 2020

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