You are here

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.

Fast And Gentle

Low-Disturbance NH₃ Openers


Low-disturbance openers for liquid sidedressing rigs have been available for several years. (A typical style is the coulter/injection nozzle shown on the opposite page.) In contrast, low-disturbance NH₃ openers like the ones shown here are a new development.

The newest low-disturbance opener for NH₃ is the Dawn Model 6000 (top photo) introduced a few months ago. It's the first example of Dawn's modular design concept and offers a lot of flexibility.

“The ability to place dry, liquid, and ammonia – or all three at once – at high rates allows the producer to react to volatile fertilizer markets,” says Joe Bassett, director of operations at Dawn Equipment (800/554-0007) in Sycamore, Illinois. “This one opener can be used fall, spring, or at sidedressing time at depths up to 7 inches and speeds up to 10 mph.”

According to Bassett, the Model 6000 can run in heavy residue. Plus, there is an optional row cleaner available that allows it to be used as a strip-till device.

“The high-clearance design and effective wiping action of the gauge wheel allow for application in wetter soils than imaginable with conventional devices, making the window of operation wider,” says Bassett.

“Power consumption is just 10 hp. per row,” he adds. “This, coupled with the 16 inches of vertical travel allowed by the parallel linkage, allows machines as large as 36 rows wide to be possible.”

The middle photo shows the opener on the John Deere 2510H applicator introduced in 2008. The single-disk opener utilizes a 22-inch blade that is angled 4° to open a narrow slot for anhydrous placement. The NH₃ is placed 4.5 inches deep. Because it uses a single disk, the opener disturbs very little soil, which enables it to be used right after planting and in very young corn. There's also 30 inches of frame clearance for running later in the season. Deere figures it triples the length of the sidedressing season.

According to Deere, a 15-opener 2510H can cover up to 40 acres per hour at 10 mph. The 23-row version introduced last year can cover up to 59 acres per hour. Each opener requires 15 hp. to 25 hp. Deere does not sell individual openers.

The Yetter 2987 Magnum fertilizer coulter (bottom photo) uses a 22-inch blade that runs at a 5° angle to slice in NH₃ 4 to 6 inches deep. (A fertilizer knife is available for NH₃, liquid or dry application.)

A spring-loaded cast closing wheel is used to close and seal the slot opened by the blade and knife. In tests with growers, Yetter ran the Magnum at speeds up to 10 mph. The unit shown has a just-introduced wiper wheel instead of a skid shoe to hold soil in place. List price for a 2987 with a skid shoe and single NH₃ tube is around $1,900. (Phone: 800/447-5777)

Last fall, Great Plains Manufacturing (800/255-0132) of Salina, Kansas, introduced the Nutri-Pro Fertilizer Bar in 30- and 40-foot working widths. For sidedressing, it uses a leading coulter followed by an NH₃ knife or a single 20-inch Vantage 1 liquid coulter. It's available as a floating-tongue pull-type model, three-point-mounted unit, or semi-mounted unit with lift-assist wheels.

There are three different types of sealing attachments available when using NH₃. Depending on soil and residue conditions, you can use either double concave discs, spring-loaded berm conditioners, or angled spider wheel conditioners.

Most wagon running gears used with 1,000- and 1,500-gallon NH₃ tanks only have 17 inches to 19 inches of axle clearance. That restricts the sidedressing season.

There are three ways to gain clearance: The two-wheeled Montag cart (shown in the top photo); a running gear with big tires and steering on both axles (shown in the bottom photo); and most common is a high-clearance version of a typical running gear (not shown). All three approaches are more commonly used with liquid tanks.

West Bend, Iowa, farmer Adam Wirtz enlisted Montag Manufacturing (712/852-4572) in nearby Emmetsburg to build the cart in the top photo to carry two 1,000-gallon NH₃ tanks. Roger Montag says the steerable caddy his company designed follows the tractor almost perfectly thanks to a double-tongued hitch connecting it to the applicator.

Wirtz uses a portable vapor pump to transfer NH₃ from a dealer's nurse tanks to the tanks on the Montag cart.


Most four-wheel-steer running gears are also used with liquid nitrogen rather than NH₃. In 2003, Yetter Manufacturing (800/447-5777), Colchester, Illinois, started building a high-clearance cart with four-wheel steering, which means the rear tires follow the front tires for a tight turning radius and precise tracking. Ground clearance is 26 inches.

Yetter's Andy Thompson says the majority of the carts are used with planters. “But we are now seeing more people who want to use them for sidedressing.”

Randy Helmrich of Eastern Iowa Welding Service (563/932-2108) near Masonville, Iowa, built the earliest running gears with four-wheel steering, most of which are used with liquid tanks.

The rig shown here is one of three he built for Randy Madden of Alden, Iowa. Madden mounted two 1,000-gallon NH₃ tanks on two of the carts and a 1,500-gallon tank on the third one. He fills them from a storage tank at his main farm.

Higher Axles Add Clearance

Buhler Industries (320/235-1053) of Winnipeg, Manitoba, recently purchased certain Redball product lines, including its steerable cart, which is now marketed under the Farm King brand. It has a 1,600-gallon liquid tank and comes with either 26-inch or 38-inch tires. Axle clearance is 30 inches with the smaller tires and 32 inches with the bigger tires. The centerline turning radius is 12.5 feet with four-wheel steering vs. 22 feet when the rear axle is locked for two-wheel steering. List price with 18.4×26 tires is $16,915.

Minden Machine Shop (800/264-6587) in Minden, Nebraska, makes several models of Patriot Pathfinder carts with steerable front and rear wheels. They accommodate 1,000-, 1,600-, and 2,000-gallon liquid tanks. Depending on the tires, axle clearance ranges from 27 inches to 31 inches.

J.D. Skiles Company (800/626-9338), Atwood, Kansas, makes Row Tracker All-Steer fertilizer carts. Some are set up for NH₃ and others are set for liquid with tanks ranging from 1,300 to 2,400 gallons.

Duo Lift Manufacturing (800/243-2583), Columbus, Nebraska, makes several types of running gears for both liquid and NH₃ tanks, including the Blue Mule Duo Steer. Tank sizes are 1,600 to 2,600 gallons.

A major obstacle to using these carts with NH₃ tanks is that, regardless of the brand, they have big tires on 120-inch tread width (or wider). That's too wide for the scales at many fertilizer dealers.


Many liquid sidedress applicators have a tank mounted on the frame. Other liquid sidedress machines and most NH₃ sidedress rigs pull a tank. The most common approach is to pull a running gear carrying a single tank. These typically have wheel spacings from 60 to 120 inches. Unlike standard running gears, they have axle clearance ranging from 26 inches to 34 inches.

The Duo Lift N-1000 handles a 1,000-gallon NH₃ tank, and the SN-1000 handles a 1,000-gallon liquid tank.

Behnke Enterprises (563/744-3246) of Farley, Iowa, makes high-clearance wagons (34 inches) for 1,000-gallon liquid and NH₃ tanks.

Pequea Machine Corp. (608/375-2656), Boscobel, Wisconsin, makes several models of fifth-wheel-type running gears. The Model 566H has 32 inches of clearance when mounted on 11L-15 tires.

Model 2807 from P and H Manufacturing (217/774-2123) of Shelbyville, Illinois, has 30 inches of clearance and handles 1,000- to 1,450-gallon tanks. Tread widths are 60 inches to 80 inches.

One of several NH₃ running gears from E-Z Trail (800/677-2802), Arthur, Illinois, has a tread width of 60 inches. It can be special ordered with extra clearance for sidedressing taller corn.

Apply Liquid Early Or Late

Even though liquid nitrogen is more expensive than NH₃, it's long been a major player in the sidedressing market. It's fast and easy to apply, and the openers don't disturb a lot of soil or bury young corn. Also, a lot of sidedressing is actually a split application on fields that received some preplant nitrogen, so the higher fertilizer price doesn't have as much impact.

Current equipment changes with liquid nitrogen involve bigger drawn applicators and the growing use of high-clearance applicators that can slip through tall corn.

Thurstons new 90-foot liquid rig was mentioned on page 42. And the John Deere and Great Plains units mentioned on page 43 can be used for liquid as well as NH₃.

Several 60-foot applicators have come out over the past few years. In addition to the 90-foot rig, Thurston also makes the 60-foot AT6020.

Fast Distributing (800/772-9279), Mountain Lake, Minnesota, makes two large liquid injection applicators for sidedressing. The Model 8200 comes with 60- or 65-foot toolbars for 20-, 22-, and 30-inch rows. Crop clearance is 29 inches. It's available with 1,800- or 2,400-gallon tanks. The 8100L has several bars ranging from 30 to 60 feet. Tank sizes range from 1,000 gallons to 2,400 gallons.

Schaben Industries (402/564-4544), Columbus, Nebraska, went into full production of the LA9000 applicator with a 60-foot boom for 2011 and were sold out by spring. It comes with 1,000-, 1,250-, or 1,500-gallon tanks.

Progressive Farm Products (309/454-1564), Hudson, Illinois, builds equipment for applying both NH₃ and liquid. The Model 2500 liquid sidedress applicator has a 60-foot boom and a 1,600-gallon tank. (Kongskilde Industries purchased Progressive last year.)

Case IH's NPX5300 is available as a mounted or a pull-type applicator for sidedressing either NH₃ or liquid nitrogen. The pull-type version comes in widths of 40 to 52.5 feet. The NPX2800 comes with 40-foot and shorter bars.

Several companies make applicators in the 40-foot range. Dalton Ag Products (641/333-4518), Lenox, Iowa, has a 42-foot-wide applicator with a 1,000-gallon tank.

Ag Systems(800/328-5866), Hutchinson, Minnesota, makes a 36-foot model (6400 Series) with a 1,300-gallon tank.

P and H Manufacturing (217/774-2123), Shelbyville, Illinois, makes an applicator for up to 11 rows.

A lot of farmers and people who specialize in fertilizer systems assemble sidedressing rigs using new and used components from various sources. Randy Loder (712/358-2390) of Pocahontas, Iowa, has converted several Hiniker 1000 cultivators into side-dressing rigs, including the one shown in the top photo, which he modified for Craig Kassel of Emmetsburg, Iowa. His modifications include moving the rolling shields, which look like rotary hoe wheels, ahead to keep the coulters from throwing slabs of dirt into the row. Consequently, the rig can run 8 mph to 12 mph in small corn.


Hagie Manufacturing (800/247-4885), Clarion, Iowa, makes 12- and 16-row nitrogen toolbars for four of its self-propelled sprayers, ranging from the 1,000-gallon STS10 to the 1,600-gallon STS16. According to Hagie, “The Hagie Quick-tach allows you to change from sprayer to fertilizer applicator in minutes.” The depth band coulter and injection nozzle unit in the bottom photo is being used on a Hagie nitrogen toolbar.

Yetter Mfg. (800/447-5777), Colchester, Illinois, builds nitrogen toolbars for four models of John Deere self-propelled sprayers: 4710, 4720, 4730, and 4830.

Miller-St. Nazianz (800/247-5557) of St. Nazianz, Wisconsin, makes a nitrogen injection toolbar for its 4000 Series Nitro sprayer. Clearance is 6 feet.

Rescue Nitrogen

When you're about out of time.

In spite of being able to start side-dressing in smaller corn and being able to run larger applicators faster throughout the season, a lot of growers are still concerned that they might not be able to finish the job, especially if June turns really wet. It's a valid concern, especially because many of them are running a lot more acres than they used to. And because June has turned really wet in several recent years, as it did last year across the southern Corn Belt.

Offsetting that, to some extent, is the ever-increasing number of high-clearance applicators owned by farmers. Even if these applicators don't have nitrogen bars like the one at right, they can still be used to apply liquid nitrogen between the rows with drop hoses or solid-stream nozzles. You can spray until the wind picks up, then sidedress nitrogen in tall corn.

Mel Gerber, Versailles, Missouri, was able to sidedress most of his fields last year. But wet conditions kept him out of the field shown above until the corn was too tall for his tractor and applicator. The corn had some starter and some poultry manure, but it needed more nitrogen.


His fallback position was to have a Spra-Coupe apply liquid nitrogen with solid-stream nozzles when the corn was past waist high. Because of the size of the corn, some of the nitrogen ended up on the leaves. “I think we had some damage,” says Gerber. But he is sure it was better than not getting any additional nitrogen on that field.

Some growers now apply small amounts of nitrogen early to carry the crop for a few weeks, then they apply the rest with high-clearance applicators outfitted with nitrogen sensors like the ones on the bar in the photo at right.

Even fields that received a lot of nitrogen before planting can run short. “My rule of thumb is that more than 16 inches of rain from April through June – or more than a foot in May and June – will lead to nitrogen deficiency problems in a substantial number of cornfields,” says University of Missouri agronomist Peter Scharf.

Read more about