Improving winter grain yields, grain quality, and nitrogen use efficiency in New England using adaptive management

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2013: $236,931.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2016
Grant Recipient: University of Maine
Region: Northeast
State: Maine
Project Leader:
Ellen Mallory
UMaine Coop Extension

Annual Reports

Information Products

Assessing Winter Grain Stands (Article/Newsletter/Blog)


  • Agronomic: rye, wheat


  • Crop Production: nutrient cycling, organic fertilizers, tissue analysis
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research, study circle, workshop
  • Production Systems: general crop production
  • Soil Management: nutrient mineralization

    Proposal abstract:

    Small grains have gained importance in New England agriculture over the last decade due to expanding demand for local sources for food and feed. Growers are particularly interested in grains that are planted in the fall (winter wheat, spelt, triticale, rye) because they provide numerous rotational benefits, produce high yields, scavenge residual soil nitrogen (N), and protect the soil from winter erosion. Recent grower surveys indicate that N fertility management is a key production challenge for winter grains, which involves providing enough N at the right times to optimize yields and, in the case of bread wheat, grain protein. Readily available N applied at planting is subject to over winter losses via leaching and volatilization; and mineralization of organic N sources is difficult to predict and lags behind crop demand in the early spring. This project uses adaptive management to improve N-use efficiency, reduce environmental N losses, and increase revenue for winter grain production. We will combine extensive research station trials with participatory on-farm strip trials to adapt in-season diagnostic testing for conventional and organic winter grain production in New England. Under this strategy growers minimize fall N applications and implement spring tests to guide N topdress rates at two key growth stages. The N rate at spring green-up (Zadok growth stage 25 or GS25) is adjusted based on tiller density to optimize yield; the rate at jointing (GS30) is adjusted based on tissue N concentration to optimize grain protein. This approach is used successfully in other humid regions of the U.S. and has shown promise in local preliminary trials. By engaging a core group of growers and service providers in inquiry-based learning through on-farm testing, we will develop a new N management tool and regional expertise. These research efforts will be coupled with a variety of educational offerings (on-farm demonstrations, field days, workshops, videos, factsheets, and a web-based topdressing N-rate calculator) to help growers increase their understanding of N dynamics in winter grains and their N management skills using an integrated approach that includes rotations, green manures, amendments, N fertilizers, and in-season testing.

    Performance targets from proposal:

    As a result of this project, 50 farmers adopt in-season diagnostic testing for winter grain production on 800 acres, and thus improve N use efficiency by 30% or more, for bread wheat meet the 12% grain protein standard on 600 acres, and increase the value of their grain by an average of $300/ton, or $180,000/year.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.