Challenging Conditions and Nitrogen Timing

Depending on each farm’s source for fertilizer recommendations, and crop requirements, each crop is going to need a certain amount of nitrogen.  In this example, corn will be the crop of focus.  Once again most of the Midwest Corn States have been experiencing an unfavorable, wet spring for 2024.  This has led to many challenges, and applying a pre-nitrogen application is not an exception.

                Even though most fieldwork has been on standby, today’s modern farming technology allows growers to remain agile.  For most, the understanding of dispersing risks of applying all, or most, of their crop’s fertilizer needs throughout the growing season is self-explanatory.  What happens if one of the applications is missed due to poor weather?  Split applications greatly reduce this risk and can be made up elsewhere.

                The top priority, being good stewards of the land, are implementing the 4Rs.  These Rs stand for: right rate, right source, right placement, and right time.  Even though some will apply certain nitrogen products in the fall, or early spring, keeping the nitrogen application as close to or during the growing season is always the right choice.  This best utilizes the farmer’s inputs and can lower application rates.  There are many different approaches to obtaining full season application rates while missing, in this example, a pre-nitrogen application due to challenging weather conditions.

                The first situation would allow for fertilizer application while seeding.  For corn this is generally through an in-furrow tube, off-set incorporation (2x2), dribble tubes, or other types of liquid injection (dry fertilizer in other parts of the world).  In-furrow tube options can range from application directly on, under or between the seed.  While this is great for starter applications such as 6-24-6 or 10-34-0, they are not able to apply high enough nitrogen amounts without causing significant injury to the germinating seed.  Dribble tubes are usually placed toward the rear of the row unit on the planter.  This is because anything placed in front, or midway, can splash product on the unit causing corrosion and premature failure to any unprotected metal or electrical components.  They are the cheapest option for fertilizer applications on the planter, but dribble tubes do not obtain the right placement. 

Off-set incorporation needs to be a rather broad category.  This is utilizing a knife, coulter, or disc to open a channel at any given distance from the seed furrow and placed below the soil surface.  For planter options, this gives the ability to use higher rates since it is not located as close to the seed.  2x2 is amongst the most popular setups.  The channel is placed two inches to the side of the seed and two inches below the seed furrow.  There are many different options for distances and depths, but for the planter pass to be the first fertilizer application of the year a 2x2x2 option is growing in popularity.  These setups are placed on both sides of the furrow and can allow for 60-80 units of nitrogen in a single pass while seeding.

This is just one pass to a fertilizer management plan.  To obtain the season’s total nitrogen needed, for growing a corn crop, in-season passes will need to be conducted.  This may include nitrogen sidedress applications, and potentially multiple times, or the use of a high-clearance system.  It is important to always incorporate nitrogen applications.  If the nitrogen is left on the surface, or unprotected, it has a greater risk of volatilization before it can be made accessible to the plant’s roots. 

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