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Nitrogen Flexibility Needed for Successful 2019

Weather challenges in spring fertility, but options abound.

The race to #Plant2019 is on, yet many farmers are still in a figurative pit row, waiting for fields to dry down so they can apply fertilizer. There are a lot of options to consider in applying nitrogen fertilizer while still getting corn planted at the right time. 

In parts of Kansas, farmers are about 65% behind normal when it comes to applied nitrogen, according to one ag retailer. 

Growers in other states are in the same situation: a long, cold winter with an overabundance of precipitation. 

“For sure, it’s delayed,” says Melissa Bell, commercial agronomist for Mycogen Seeds, based in Covington, Indiana.

Bell joins other Mycogen agronomists to offer nitrogen fertility advice for farmers champing at the bit to get in the field.

Do No Harm…

First and foremost, don’t get on fields when it’s too wet, says John Long, Mycogen commercial agronomist from Sidney, Iowa. “The key is not to get out too early and create compaction problems that you’ll live with the next eight to nine months,” he explains. 

It’s tough to wait until conditions are right. Yet be patient – there still are many options for farmers to apply the required nitrogen, says Jason Welker, Mycogen Seeds commercial agronomist for western Nebraska.

In-Season N Options

Bell says the corn plant doesn’t need much nitrogen until the plant reaches V3-V4.

Sidedressing with anhydrous ammonia or UAN before V4 can still get N to the plant when it needs it. “Get it on before V4. You’re definitely setting up for trouble if you don’t do it before V4,” she says. 

It’s about adjusting the game plan, Welker adds. “Many farmers in my area plan to do a burndown and get in the field, putting aside their preplanting nitrogen applications.”

The Mycogen agronomists recommend a few options if farmers chose to move N applications to postplanting:  

  • Increase starter fertilizer rates, applying 2×2 and not in-furrow to avoid seedling damage. Rates can be increased from 15 gallons up to 25 to 30 gallons in this scenario.
  • Apply in-season through chemigating, split-dry applications up to the six-leaf stage, or liquid nitrogen up to V5 or V6. 
  • Use Y-Drops or a high-clearance rig to apply UAN or inject with coulters. 

Preplant Nitrogen Options

While adjusting preplanting nitrogen applications to in-season is an option, Cody Cornelius, commercial agronomist for Mycogen Seeds in Missouri, says farmers may still have time to apply anhydrous ammonia prior to planting.

“For dryland, minimum tillage acres we need to prioritize anhydrous applications,” Cornelius says. 

Again, be wary of trying to get in the field too early, Long adds. “I’ve always said when you make a pass, you should see a little bit of dust. If we’re seeing clouds coming out of the ground or smell some anhydrous ammonia vapor, the timing isn’t right.” 

Cornelius offers recommendations for farmers able to apply anhydrous ammonia, preplant:  

  • Apply anhydrous at least 8 inches into the soil to avoid seeding damage. 
  • Use a nitrogen stabilizer. A stabilizer can keep nitrogen in the soil and make it available for when corn plants need it most.
  • Wait five to seven days following an anhydrous application to plant.  

Be Patient

Whatever you do, don’t get in a hurry. 

“I can’t stress enough the importance of waiting for the right weather,” Bell says. “We can still raise some phenomenally good May-planted corn, rather than doing things the wrong way the first week of April.”

Adds Long: “You get one chance every year to grow a crop, so do the right thing,” he says. Don’t skimp on fertility rates, or on nitrogen stabilizer. “Don’t look at ways of cutting costs too much. Invest in the crop.”

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