Stretch the season
For years, the term sidedressing conjured up images of five-knife, 500-gallon anhydrous ammonia applicators running 5 mph in 12-inch-tall corn. Sidedressing was as out of style as a corn picker (except in the eastern Corn Belt and on sandy soil).
Despite the stereotype, sidedressing has always been agronomically sound. Now, new equipment, new techniques, new concerns about nitrogen cost and efficiency, and a handful of wet falls and wetter springs are causing many farmers to take a new look at this old practice.
Sidedressing is definitely different the second time around. You can start earlier in the season because low-disturbance openers for both anhydrous ammonia (NH₃) and liquid nitrogen let you run 9 or 10 mph in two-leaf corn.
You can cover more acres throughout the season thanks to wider applicators and bigger tanks. Several companies make 60-foot rigs for liquid nitrogen, which are typically coupled with 1,600-gallon tanks. And Thurston added the 90-foot Blu-Jet AT7000 applicator with a 3,100-gallon tank in 2009.
In 2008, John Deere introduced a 37.5-foot NH₃ sidedressing machine; last year Deere added a 57.5-foot version. Last August, Case IH introduced the 65-foot Nutri-Placer 940, which can be used to sidedress NH₃.
Several companies make running gears that carry two or three 1,000-gallon NH₃ tanks. Furthermore, 1,500-gallon NH₃ tanks are becoming common, and 3,000-gallon tanks are available.
Finally, high-clearance applicators can come to the rescue if the corn outgrows conventional sidedressing equipment.
In 30 years of farming, Randy Madden of Alden, Iowa, had never sidedressed corn. But in 2009, bothered by uneven yields in corn-on-corn where manure accounted for part of the nitrogen budget, he made a major investment in sidedressing equipment. He purchased a 37.5-foot John Deere 2510H applicator, three high-clearance running gears with four-wheel steering, and a 26,000-gallon storage tank. He averages 25 acres per hour.
“Last year, we started when the corn was in the two-leaf stage and finished by the five-leaf stage,” he says.
Yetter Mfg. makes several types of fertilizer equipment and has a broad perspective on the sidedressing market. Andy Thompson, a regional sales manager, says, “In the last five years, demand has really increased. And last year, we saw a huge increase in sidedressing.”
A lot of last year's increase was due to wet conditions in the southern Corn Belt. But Brent Schmitz, owner of Schmitz Ag Products, Niota, Illinois, thinks we're seeing a long-term trend. “It's about increasing yields and using nutrients better,” he says.
Schmitz has several ventures including building fertilizer applicators and strip-till machines. Last year, he built a liquid side-dressing bar to rent out, but he ended up using it for custom application instead. This year, he added an NH₃ sidedressing machine.