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If N supplies or time are too tight, plant first and fertilize later

Agriculture.com Staff 04/22/2010 @ 2:37pm

If you've got fertilizing and planting left to do and are a little worried about the weather forecast that will likely stall fieldwork progress starting this weekend, don't neglect the most important job.

The good planting conditions in much of the Midwest so far this spring have allowed farmers to do some catching up. But, with so much fertilizer to apply and tillage to wrap up before planting, there's still a lot to do. If you've got a full plate but not much time to take care of it all, or if things like anhydrous ammonia are in short supply in your area, plant first and worry about other jobs later, says University of Missouri Extension soil specialist Peter Scharf.

"I advise farmers to plant when conditions are right even if that means finding another way to get their nitrogen on," Scharf says in a university report. "Pre-emerge, post-emerge, sidedress, topdress, broadcasting, injected, dribbled -- there are lost of ways to get it done that will work, and the plants aren't picky about when they get it."

Scharf says as long as the nutrients are applied before the corn is 3 feet tall, there's no difference in yield versus pre-plant applications.

But, applying late versus not at all does create a discrepancy in yield potential and profits, and if you expect a time crunch or limited anhydrous availability when you need it, consider looking at other sources, Scharf advises.

"Anhydrous is the cheapest nitrogen source and the most resistant to loss, but the slowest to apply," he says. "Given how far behind we are in field operations, other sources that are faster to apply are a good choice this year. They're a little more expensive, but less expensive than losing yield because you didn't plant when there were ideal conditions."

Sidedress application of anhydrous later in the season is another way to deal with the current bottleneck, a university report indicates. "It will probably be a lot easier to get in a few weeks."

But, putting down anhydrous later on after the seed's planted carries risks of its own, Scharf adds. Ammonia's inherently toxic, so if it's placed adjacent to seeds in the soil, it can create serious damage. One way to avoid that damage is by using precision tools like RTK or GPS guidance to keep a constant distance between your planted seeds and the anhydrous you're applying.

In general, if you've kept up with your nutrient needs regularly in the past, you should be in better shape than if you've let them slip, Scharf says. "For people who have in the past had a regular nutrient program, their soil should have enough stored to supply what the crop needs," he adds. "If they like a cushion they can double up next time they apply fertilizer."

If you've got fertilizing and planting left to do and are a little worried about the weather forecast that will likely stall fieldwork progress starting this weekend, don't neglect the most important job.

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