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, JULY 30, 2008

CONTACT: J. Kent Messick, Field Services section chief
NCDA&CS Agronomic Division
(919) 733-2655

Tissue testing makes wheat profitable despite challenges

AHOSKIE — Hertford County grower Pate Pierce planted 486 acres of wheat last fall and harvested 70 to 90 bushels per acre this spring. He had never planted so much wheat or had it yield so well. He attributes his success to having fertilized the crop based on tissue test results – something else he had never done.

Back in February, Pierce attended a local meeting where N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Regional Agronomist Wayne Nixon spoke about the importance of tissue testing to verify the amount of fertilizer needed by a crop. Pierce had used plant tissue analysis many times in cotton and tobacco production but never in wheat.

Nixon explained that, due to the ongoing drought, the crop preceding wheat may not have used all the nitrogen it was given. If excess nitrogen was still in the soil, growers shouldn’t need to add as much as they normally would to the wheat. The only way to find out, he said, was to collect plant tissue samples and have them analyzed for nutrient content.

"In a typical year," Nixon said, "growers might plan on putting out 125 pounds of nitrogen per acre of wheat, but if residual nitrogen is present and the grower applies his usual rate, then there will be too much. It’s important to use the right rate of nitrogen; too much and the crop will lodge."

Pierce was swayed by the argument. Fields where he had planted wheat had been in corn the previous year. The corn had not done well, and he suspected it had not used all the nitrogen that had been put out. He went straight home and collected tissue samples.

"The tissue test results were worthwhile," Pierce said. "They called for anywhere from 65 to 100 pounds of nitrogen instead of 125, and they also pointed out some micronutrient problems I wouldn’t have caught otherwise. Copper was deficient in two fields, manganese in five."

"I definitely saved money on nitrogen. By reading the plant report, I was able to reduce my nitrogen application by 10 to 15 gallons per acre. At $2 a gallon, that’s a savings of at least $20 per acre and on 486 acres that’s more than $9,000."

Tissue testing also helped Pierce boost his return this past season by indicating that he did not need to add potash and phosphorus. This was welcome information since potash prices, in particular, have risen unusually high.

"Everything came together this year. The ground had good moisture at planting, and we had a good spring for harvest. I fertilized efficiently and had my best yield ever," Pierce said. "To top it off, wheat this year was about double the normal price. We’re satisfied, and tissue testing is something we’ll do every year from now on."

Pierce sends his plant tissue samples to the NCDA&CS Agronomic Division laboratory in Raleigh. Analysis requires about two working days, and results are posted online for easy access. The cost is $5 per sample or $25 for out-of-state growers. North Carolina growers can also consult with an NCDA&CS regional agronomist about how to implement tissue report findings.

North Carolina has access to one of the most comprehensive agronomic testing and advisory services in the nation. Details on fees and sample submission are available online at



NCDA&CS Public Affairs Division, Brian Long, Director
Mailing Address:1001 Mail Service Center, Raleigh NC 27699-1001
Physical Address: 2 West Edenton Street, Raleigh NC 27601
Phone: (919) 733-4216; FAX: (919) 733-5047

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