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How to Deal With Fertilizer Delays

This spring has compressed a month of fertilizer demand into a week or two in some areas.

If you’re having difficulties obtaining nitrogen fertilizer (anhydrous particularly and sometimes urea) during this spring that’s compressed in many areas, you’re not alone.

“One farmer I talked to could only get one tank per day,” writes Dave Franzen, North Dakota State University (NDSU)  Extension fertility specialist, in this week’s NDSU Crop & Pest Report. “The immediate result has been that some farmers are waiting to plant small grains and corn until fertilizer is spread or ammonia refill of tanks is possible.

“I have been worried that this might happen since early April,” continues Franzen. “ A normal North Dakota planting season is a month-long period of fertilizer application, with a couple weeks of the application prior to most planting. This season, not only was little pre-planting season fertilizing possible, but small grains and other early-season crop planting (sugar beet, small grains, canola), as well as later-season crop planting (corn, soybean) is all happening at the same time. This puts a logistical compression of a month of fertilizer demand into a week or two.  

"I understand that new trucking laws and enforcement techniques mean that fewer truck loads can be hauled each day by truck drivers,” Franzen continues. “I have also observed more ammonia tanks in the field across the state than I have seen recently, probably because drier soil conditions enable application, and the need to reduce production costs.”

What to Do

If you’re not locked into anhydrous ammonia as a preplant or at-planting fertilizer N choice in small grains or another solid-seeded crop, plant, says Franzen. Then, apply urea mixed with Agrotain, Limus, or another NBPT N-(n-butyl) thiophosphoric triamide) product of similar per ton rate of active ingredient on top after planting.

“The cost per acre for product will increase, but the anhydrous supply delay may last for some time,” writes Franzen. “The per day loss in wheat yield may more than offset any increase in cost and the small N use efficiency loss of surface application. Communicate with the anhydrous dealer to see how serious the delays are and if the delays will ease sooner or later.

“Where the farmer is locked into anhydrous due to a prepayment for a specific product, or the intended crop is a row crop like corn, delay the anhydrous application to a side-dress, apply the anhydrous between the rows and charge ahead with planting,” writes Franzen. “If the delay is with urea and the urea is applied with planting in small grains, but phosphate and other fertilizers in the blend are available, plant the small grains/canola using the P and other ingredients, then apply the urea with a urease inhibitor as indicated above.”  

“If MAP or another phosphate source is delayed, delay planting in small grains and corn if it was intended for a seed-placed, near seed-placed starter application. If intended for a broadcast application, plant and apply fertilizer over the top after planting,” writes Franzen.

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