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Autumn Cereals – Crop Nutrition

Growing Crop Margins

To achieve the maximum potential yield, crops need to be provided with the correct balance of essential nutrients throughout the growing season. High yields come from achieving the correct leaf and shoot numbers, maintaining a green leaf canopy that intercepts 90% of the light and through achieving an increased number of grain ears and large grain sizes.

That's easier said than done when dealing with a crop exposed to the elements and other factors that may limit potential. However, a significant factor is a balanced crop nutrition programme, including the right levels of nitrogen, potassium, phosphate, and sulphur.


Nitrogen plays a large role in plant growth, being responsible for protein production, and is involved in the process of photosynthesis, directly impacting the number of grains that are set on the individual ears in the cereal plant.

There will be approximately 45 to 50 grains/ear in a high yielding crop of wheat, which will be reduced if nitrogen is limited. Achieving high grain quality is also down to maintaining a sufficient nitrogen supply, which is especially vital when growing Group 1 or Group 2 wheat varieties for milling.



Phosphate is involved in energy transfer within the plant, especially during periods of rapid growth. In the early stages of plant growth, it promotes root development therefore, if its availability is limited, it can affect the efficiency of the nutrient uptake. I always recommend soil testing regularly, to ensure that there are sufficient levels of phosphate in the soil to satisfy the early demand of the crop after planting. If levels are deficient, they need to be topped up before the root development stage.


Potassium, or Potash as it is often referred to, is key to the transportation system within the plant. It's fundamental to many metabolic processes, through the activation of a large number of enzymes required for chemical reactions.

It controls cell sap content, which is crucial to maintain a turgid crop and has an essential role in the distribution of sugars and proteins made by the green tissue, for plant growth and grain fill.

Alongside nitrogen, potash increases yield through influencing the number of grains per ear, therefore affecting the quality of the crop and the profit margin.


The importance of sulphur in cereal crop growth is often overlooked. It's involved in amino acid production to produce proteins, so in those crops deficient in the nutrient, there tends to be a lower protein level. This affects the quality of the grain, resulting in difficulties in meeting market specifications.

As it plays a key role in the structure of proteins and functioning of enzymes, sulphur is also involved in the defence of plants against stresses and pests, so often those crops which are deficient in sulphur are more susceptible to disease risk. 

Resolving the Deficiencies

To achieve the maximum potential yield of the crop, it's vital nutrient levels are tested in the soil periodically. Nutrient deficiencies can have detrimental effects on crop quality and yield, therefore having an awareness of the fertility status of the soil before the growing season can really improve input decisions.

Every field and farm is different, so for maximum impact from fertiliser applications, speak to your local Wynnstay specialist who can create a bespoke fertiliser plan to ensure all nutritional requirements are met and that the crop achieves its maximum potential.

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