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Planter-applied nitrogen

Agriculture.com Staff 05/15/2007 @ 1:40pm

It was largely a process of elimination that led Dan Wilson to start applying anhydrous ammonia (NH3) with a corn planter last year. Previously, he applied NH3 in the fall. But that typically took an extra 30 to 40 pounds of nitrogen. Plus, it required an extra trip during a busy time of the year.

"We actually have more time available in the spring than in the fall," says the Prairie City, Iowa, farmer. "About 70% of our crop labor requirements are between September 10 and December 10."

Another possibility was to apply NH3 before planting. Wilson ruled that out because, in his experience, "spring-applied NH3 that crosses rows causes ammonia burn."

Sidedressing is a viable option for some farmers but not for Wilson. That's because he farms a lot of contoured fields. "We cannot sidedress all of the land we farm," he says. "Planter-applied nitrogen is the contour farmer's answer to sidedressing."

Another option would be to apply liquid nitrogen with the planter. Wilson ruled that out on the basis of economics. Liquid nitrogen is significantly more expensive than NH3, plus he would have to haul and apply many more gallons per acre.

In contrast to the negative attributes he saw with those systems, Wilson saw positive attributes with a planter-based NH3 system.

"We can apply the nitrogen closer to when the plant needs it and where it needs it," says Wilson. Plus, he eliminates a trip that costs around $5 an acre and takes a lot of time.

New technology and new techniques are making it easier to apply NH3 with a planter. It also helps to have someone around who really understands the new technology. Wilson's son, David, works for Ag Leader Technology and was instrumental in developing the system.

As a precaution the first year, Wilson had applied a half rate of NH3 in the fall. For 2007, all the nitrogen was going on in the spring.

"It's not for the weak at heart," says Wilson. "However, I do consider that I get paid well for my time."

He runs the planter at the same speed, usually 4.5 miles per hour, as he would if he weren't applying NH3. He does need an employee to refill tanks.

The system is built around a 24-row Kinze planter. (Because he was planning to raise more continuous corn in 2007, Wilson also equipped a 12-row planter to apply NH3.) Last year, he ran two sets of tanks. This year, he'll run three sets.

The NH3 is carried in two 1,000-gallon tanks mounted on Yetter All-Steer carts. At an application rate of 125 pounds of N per acre, Wilson can plant about 50 acres on one set of tanks.

An Equaply system made by aNH3 Company is used to meter the NH3 and keep it in the liquid form for more accurate row-to-row application. After the NH3 leaves the tank, it runs through a Hiniker heat exchanger. Then a hydraulic pump boosts the pressure to 140 to 180 pounds.

Next, the NH3 flows into two 12-row manifolds Wilson built. At the bottom of those two manifolds are a total of 24 electric solenoids that act as boom valves for the openers.

Finally, the NH3, still in the liquid form, passes through orifices into Teflon tubes that carry it to the Kinze openers on the planter.

With the Ag Leader InSight autoswath feature, NH3 solenoids, starter solenoids and planter clutches are turned off automatically, in groups of three, when the planter enters areas that have been planted.

Beyond that, Wilson has divided his fields into management zones. The Ag Leader InSight monitor adjusts seeding rates, NH3 rates, and even starter rates according to prescription files created before planting.

It was largely a process of elimination that led Dan Wilson to start applying anhydrous ammonia (NH3) with a corn planter last year. Previously, he applied NH3 in the fall. But that typically took an extra 30 to 40 pounds of nitrogen. Plus, it required an extra trip during a busy time of the year.

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