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No-till nitrogen

Agriculture.com Staff 03/11/2008 @ 1:47pm

As nitrogen prices run wild, it's more important than ever for farmers to corral the product after it's applied. That's especially true in no-till, where volatilization losses of commonly used urea and UAN liquid nitrogen applied on the surface can reach 15% to 20% under some conditions.

Sterling, Kansas, no-till farmer Jon Oden thinks he's found a way to avoid these potential losses while also dealing with the realities of the current nitrogen market. "We've built a low-disturbance fertilizer applicator that allows us to use NH3 in no-till situations. Now, not only can we use the least-expensive form of nitrogen, but also we put it in the soil, where it's less likely to be lost.

We're doing some on-farm testing to see if we can use less nitrogen since we're applying it under the surface," says Oden.

Oden built his applicator using 32 NTO (no-till offset) openers bought from Wako, Inc., of Enid, Oklahoma. At $800 each, the NTO units feature a 24-inch-diameter coulter that runs at a slight angle. A shank tucked behind this coulter releases NH3 into a narrow slot in the soil, and a 16-inch press wheel seals it in place.

"We put the openers on a 40-foot bar salvaged from a John Deere cultivator and spaced the openers 15 inches apart," says Oden. "In order to make room for them, we had to add a second bar in front of the center section. This 16-foot-long center section was made from 7x7-inch tubing and serves as a place to mount brackets for the front wheels, the three-point hitch, and other attachments."

While no form of nitrogen is cheap these days, Oden says that using NH3 saves him more than 20 cents per pound. "We inject NH3 three to four inches deep at speeds up to eight miles per hour and see almost no gas escaping. And, there's so little soil disturbance that we use the applicator to topdress our growing wheat with NH3," adds Oden.

Oden's applicator utilizes a Raven Accu-Flow system that includes a super cooler where most NH3 gas is converted to a liquid. This ensures more accurate metering and results in a higher portion of the NH3 stream being in the liquid form at the shank.

The single-disc openers on John Deere 1890 and Case IH SDX air seeders also allow no-tillers to inject NH3, thereby getting multiple uses from those seeding tools. However, individual row units are typically not available.

Bourgault Industries' Mid Row Banding (MRB) coulter systems are widely used to build NH3 no-till toolbars. The MRB20 uses a 20-inch-diameter coulter in a mounting that is flexible enough to use on a bar designed for preplant, seeding, or sidedressing applications. The exchange rate has caused the cost of the Canadian product to climb to over $1,200 per unit.

Other low-disturbance openers are the heavy-duty Model 3004 ($850) from Dawn Equipment Company, Sycamore, Illinois, and Yetter's Model 2996 fertilizer coulter, costing roughly $460 each.

As nitrogen prices run wild, it's more important than ever for farmers to corral the product after it's applied. That's especially true in no-till, where volatilization losses of commonly used urea and UAN liquid nitrogen applied on the surface can reach 15% to 20% under some conditions.

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