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Nitrogen Does Not Increase Drought Stress (06/08/17)

A number of years ago, I had several grain producers earnestly tell me that they were reluctant to apply high N rates preplant because early vegetative growth caused by higher N results in earlier drought stress to small grains.

Nitrogen Does Not Increase Drought Stress

A number of years ago, I had several grain producers earnestly tell me that they were reluctant to apply high N rates preplant because early vegetative growth caused by higher N results in earlier drought stress to small grains. I have had several experiences in replicated trials where this adage was put to the test. In 2008 at Williston, rates of N were 0-160 pounds of N per acre. The average yield in that dry, hot environment was 13 bushels per acre, and yield did not vary between the check plot and the higher N-rate treatments. The protein, however, was under 10% for the check plot, whereas the higher N rates were well above the 14% protein market threshold. If one thinks only of the effect of vegetative growth and N rate, it might seem reasonable to think that the plant is using energy and water early in the season compared to lower N rate growth. However, in small grains, tillering is directly related to root mass. As tillering increases, so does root growth, so the plants are better able to take advantage of any moisture in the soil from a greater volume of soil. Therefore, it makes sense that higher N rates would not result in a greater effect of drought on yield. If there is a drought, yield will suffer, but N rate will not decrease yield if applied at recommended rates.

Dave Franzen

NDSU Extension Soil Specialist

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