Nutrient Management Research Results

Michigan has strong wheat markets, but one of the “rubs” against growing more wheat has been the challenge for growers in producing high-quality crops year after year, and also increasing their yield. Perhaps the biggest keys to productivity are figuring out the optimal nitrogen application program, planting date and fertility program.

For these reasons, the Michigan Wheat Program has dedicated 17 percent of its annual research budget to nutrient management and fertility projects in recent years.

Key researchers in the area of nutrient management have been Dr. Kurt Steinke of the MSU Department of Plant, Soil and Microbial Sciences, and Dr. Bruno Basso of MSU’s Geological Sciences Department. Researchers joining the line-up of wheat-funded projects in 2017 included Dr. Jason Smith and Dr. Steven Safferman.

Basso’s work utilizes unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to monitor and optimize the use of nitrogen fertilizer and fungicide in wheat fields. Steinke has studied the impact of numerous variables surrounding nitrogen (N) applications on wheat including planting dates, timing of N, preferred N rates, forms of N used and growth regulators. Safferman and Smith are studying possible phosphorous leaching routes that may be impacting Lake Erie.

Wheat farmers looking to increase productivity and profitability, and protecting the environment, will be interested in the following reports on nutrient management and fertility projects funded by the Michigan Wheat Program.

MSU and the Michigan Wheat Program caution that three years of data should always be reviewed to get a more complete picture of research results. Farmers also must weigh input costs for fertilizer, fungicides and other inputs against the up-side of higher yields.


Research on Field Cropping Practices and Phosphorous Run-off

Research by Dr. Jason Smith and Dr. Steven Safferman

2017 Report:  Lab Investigation of Field Cropping Practices Resulting in Macropore Formation and Subsurface Nutrient Loss

This first-time project was funded jointly by the wheat, corn and soybean check-off programs and conducted by Dr. Steve Safferman and Dr. Jason Smith, MSU extension researchers specializing in biomass and biosystems. Their research team looked at the continued problem of agricultural phosphorous (P) leaching into surface water, particularly Lake Erie.

The laboratory component of the research looked at the rate with which mono-ammonium phosphate, di-ammonium phosphate, dairy manure and swine manure leached through soil columns in simulated rain events.  While no difference was noted between the two phosphate forms and swine manure, the dairy manure appeared to pull P deeper into the soil profile.

In the field, the team painted soil plots with colored dye to look at the effects of till/no-till practices and soil macropores (small air pockets) in escalating downward movement of mobile P.

Click below to read the 2017 final report on the project from Smith and Safferman.


Research on Red and White Winter Wheat Soil and Plant Nutrition Systems

Research by Dr. Kurt Steinke

2017 Report: Soft Winter Wheat Response to Urease Inhibitor, Nitrification Inhibitor, Plant Growth Regulator, Fungicide, Micronutrients and High Nitrogen Management

In 2017, Steinke continued his studies of how wheat response to nutrition with a project that examined wheat yield and profitability in response to multiple inputs, individually and in combinations.

With higher rates of nitrogen application, wheat productivity increases were more likely when other high management practices were followed; under traditional management practices, including IPM, an increased rate of nitrogen did not have the same positive effect on yield.

However, the research could not identify any other high management variable that decreased yield when eliminated from the trial.

The report details Steinke’s results in this project when adding, increasing and eliminating several other variables including urease inhibitor, nitrification inhibitor, plant growth regulator, fungicide and micronutrients.

Click below to read Steinke’s 2017 report to the Michigan Wheat Program board, or to review the comprehensive PowerPoint presentation.


Research on Wheat Planting Date, N Rate and Timing

Research by Dr. Kurt Steinke

2016 Report: Winter Wheat Soil Fertility Systems: Planting Date to Nitrogen Rate and Everything in Between

Concluding two years of research in 2015, this Steinke project addressed three specific questions: The effect of planting date on wheat yield; optimal N application rates for higher yields; and optimal N timing. His second year data indicate that planting date is the dominant factor for increasing wheat yield.

This research will continue into the future.

Click below to read the 2015 report or review Dr. Steinke’s PowerPoint presentation to the Michigan Wheat Program board.


N Strategies to Improve Red Wheat Yield: Timing and N Formulations

Research by Dr. Kurt Steinke

2013 Final Report: Development of Nutrient Management Strategies to Improve Soft Red Winter Wheat Production

In a one-year project that concluded with the 2013 harvest, Dr. Kurt Steinke was investigating two primary objectives: What was the optimal N rate and N timing to maximize the N benefit yet using the least fertilizer; and how did the newer fertilizer technologies such as urease and nitrification inhibitors impact wheat production.

Steinke tested 10 different nitrogen applications. Some yield increases were identified. A rather dry spring lessened the N losses typically seen through leaching and nitrification, making those N technologies less effective in these trials.

Click below to read Steinke’s final report from this project.

For more information on Steinke’s nutrient management research, growers may wish to visit


UAV Wheat Monitoring

Research by Dr. Bruno Basso

2017 Final Report: Improving Nitrogen Management in Wheat using Remote Sensing

In his fourth and final report for the Michigan Wheat Program, MSU Foundation professor Dr. Bruno Basso summarizes his findings from utilizing Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), airborne imagery, yield monitor data and crop simulation models to explain how nitrogen could be managed more effectively to increase wheat yields and reduce negative environmental impacts.

In 2017, Basso’s lab conducted three on-farm trials measuring wheat response to a split application of side-dress nitrogen applied during the growing season.

The project analyzed multiple years of yield history to create the concept of yield stability classes to explain how yield zones in a field can change over space and time.  Results indicated that wheat yields were more influenced by position in the landscape (yield stability zone) than actual timing of the nitrogen application.

Click below to read the final report from this project and see Basso’s aerial maps of yield zones on the farms.

 2016 Report: Improving Nitrogen Management in Wheat using Remote Sensing Phase II (2013)

Dr. Bruno Basso, of MSU’s Department of Geologic Sciences, took a literal look at the future in this two-year project when he used unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) – called agricultural drones – to get a bird’s eye view at a crop’s response to applications of N and fungicide for Fusarium head blight, leaf rust, Septoria leaf spot and Stagonospora leaf blotch.

While it’s unlikely wheat farmers can implement Basso’s findings today, his 2015 research report provides a look at future crop monitoring techniques that will improve productivity and profitability. The project has been funded for another year, to enable Basso to develop a model.

Click below to review Dr. Basso’s reports:


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