Protein in Wheat

Protein in Hard Red Wheat

Protein is always a factor when producing Hard Red Wheat. Many growers have the same questions:

  1. “Why does protein matter to a miller or baker?”
  2. “Why didn’t my wheat make protein?”
  3. “How can I get protein next year?”

Bakers and Millers care about protein in wheat (particularly hard wheat used for baking bread). Protein affects gluten content and loaf volume during the baking process. A large amount of the wheat used in Ontario’s milling and baking industry comes from Western Canada and the Western United States. That wheat is higher in protein. This allows millers to produce the flour desired by bakers to produce high quality bread. Ontario Wheat produc- ers have a huge opportunity to access this market, if they can consistently deliver high protein hard wheat in Ontario.

Numerous factors influence protein content in wheat. The largest factor is the amount of plant available, Nitro- gen available during heading and grain fill.  Protein consists of amino acids. Nitrogen is part of the basic structure of all amino acids. The amount of Nitrogen available to the plant is influ- enced by both environmental condi- tions and management practice.

When you apply Nitrogen to wheat, this applied nitrogen is only part of the total nitrogen used by the wheat plant. The balance of the nitrogen available to  the  plant  comes  from  nitrogen mineralization  in  the  soil.  Organic matter  content  of  the  soil,  manure application history, and weather condi- tions will affect how much nitrogen is mineralized each year. Soils higher in organic matter or with a history of manure application will release more nitrogen to be available to the wheat crop. Warm and wet soil conditions will maximize soil microbe activity, increasing available nitrogen. We have all seen wheat that instantly greened up after a warm spring rain, increasing available nitrogen to the plant. This past  season,  dryer  than  normal weather, limited the amount of micro- bial activity and thus, mineralization of nitrogen from soil. Dry weather also limited wheat plants ability to access nitrogen. Nitrogen is made available to the plant primarily by movement in soil solution.

Nitrogen management for maximum yield and protein content involves ensuring that adequate nitrogen is available during the vegetative growth stage. To reach maximum protein content, you must have adequate nitro- gen available during grain fill.
This past season, many growers applied all of their nitrogen in the early spring when the wheat first greened up. With limited snowfall last winter, most fields had the nitrogen applied earlier than ever. That nitrogen was used by the plant during vegetative growth.  This  helped  yield,  but  left little around when the seed was filling for protein formation.

Surveying growers that achieved protein in there Hard Red Winter Wheat in 2012, a couple of common practices are noticeable. Most of these growers used either split applications or a nitrogen release inhibitor (either ESN or Agrotain.) This helped to have nitrogen available to the wheat plant when the seed was filling to improve protein content. Many of the split applications involved applying nitro- gen at flag leaf or later when the plant can use it for protein formation. Keep in mind if initial applications of nitro- gen are insufficient, late applications will be used to fill the plants’ require- ment for yield before being used to build protein.  Another common man- agement practice used by growers making protein this year was sulphur application.  Sulphur  is   a   building block for protein and a key ingredient in the formation of chlorophyll. With less sulphur available from acid rain, sulphur deficiency is becoming more common (approximately .1lbs of suIphur is removed per bushel of wheat harvested).

When applying late applications of nitrogen to boost protein, remember that the flag leaf can be easily dam- aged. Use either liquid urea or dry products before a rain.
While using smart nitrogen manage ment practices won’t guarantee that you get protein, it will increase your odds of getting it. Hard Red Winter Wheat offers a large opportunity for Ontario wheat growers, as we have a huge market locally for this wheat. Managing protein to higher levels to meet the requirements of millers and bakers will be the key to taking advantage of this opportunity.


Peter Johnson about Protein

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