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Adjust N timing = Savings?

Last fall, Brad Dorsey jumped at the opportunity to evaluate his nitrogen (N) use by participating in Beck’s Hybrids Practical Farm Research program. Even though he believed his current practices were on target, the seventh-generation farmer from Moro, Illinois, wanted to validate his fertilizer program and to adjust it if necessary. 

“I try to do the best with what I have – consistently. I try to pay attention to all the details to maximize the most of it,” says Dorsey. However, the yield data shocked him. Applying N with Hagie’s Nitrogen Toolbar at the V10 stage increased yields by 11.6 bushels per acre and profits by $56.30 per acre. 

“If you run out of N, it doesn’t matter how many things you did right. You’ve come a long way for nothing,” says Jason Webster, Beck’s Hybrids central Illinois Practical Farm Research director.

After switching to a liquid N program in the last couple years, Dorsey was confident he was providing adequate N at key times for crop uptake. He splits 32% N applications by incorporating one half preplant and sidedressing the remaining N with variable-rate technology.  

Dorsey’s trial had these five different treatments, all with 112 pounds of N applied preplant: 

• Normal application rate of 80 pounds of N sidedressed between the V4 and V5 stages.
• 140 pounds of N side-dressed between the V4 and V5 stages.
• 46 pounds of N sidedressed between the V4 and V5 stages.
• 97 pounds of N sidedressed with the Nitrogen Toolbar at the V10 stage. 
• OptRx crop sensors for variable rate at the V10 stage.

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Dorsey used the Nitrogen Toolbar to mimic his normal V4 to V5 stage rates at the V10 stage to evaluate if sidedressing between the V4 to V5 stage was the correct timing. 

The toolbar was also equipped with OptRx crop sensors for the V10 late-season application. Then, Dorsey sidedressed higher and lower N rates to make comparisons with his normal N rate. 

The trial is in a block system consisting of four repetitions, taking an average of 30 acres per field. The results are the average of two hybrids at two locations.

The challenge

Participating in the trial gave Dorsey an opportunity to see the results firsthand on his own farm. The goal of the program was to give farmers the opportunity to evaluate their own N use and, ultimately, to find out if they were applying the correct N rate at the ideal time. 

“A lot of producers put N on upfront. It’s a huge risk,” says Webster. His concern is that most farmers don’t even realize the amount of N they lose before the crop has a chance to tap into it. 

“I was able to bring it to my farm to see if I could get a return from it,” says Dorsey. 

Since the late-season application is a completely different practice than he uses, it gave him the opportunity to see if the method was viable for his operation. The $56.30 difference left Dorsey considering how he could reach the next level with his N program.

“You think, as a farmer, whatever practice you’re doing is pretty close to right,” says Dorsey. “I’m always trying to do better, and I think I’m giving it all I’ve got. Obviously, there are always better avenues.” 

Protocols  

Farmers participating in the program have a general set of protocols to follow: 

• Normal N application. 
• 50 pounds more N than the normal application.
• 50 pounds less N than the normal application.
• Late-season application at the V10 stage.
• Variable-rate application.
• Urea application.

In addition to these protocols, eight rows on the toolbar have closers; seven do not. 

Practical Farm Research Program
Participating in the Practical Farm Research program gives farmers like Dorsey an opportunity to evaluate on-farm data on their actual farm. 

“It’s on your farm, your soil type,” says Webster. “It gives validity to a grower. They have ownership of that data,” says Webster. 

Ownership of the data was the push Dorsey needed – the opportunity to see how his field, soil types, and local conditions would react to this type of application. The trial made him realize there was another $56 per acre that was attainable. 

“I’m going to have to be able to produce more corn with less N, and this is something that’s going to allow me to tweak my N program,” says Dorsey.

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