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Sponsored: Nitrogen Applications; History Repeats Itself

Winston Churchill once said, “those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” History is for self-knowledge…after all. The only clues to the future that are offered to us are our past experiences. The value of history is that it teaches us how to improve based on our past. This lesson has never felt more applicable than it does this year.

Let’s just get right down to it. It has rained a lot. It’s probably going to rain a lot more. And if your reading this, you’re probably pretty worried. Not just about the seed you planted, but about your time and investment in your inputs. We have talked about the benefits of sidedressing nitrogen (N) in the past, but this planting season has become a perfect example of why sidedressing pays. Here’s why.

There are plenty of farmers who believe in applying all their N upfront, either in a fall application or at planting. While there are some advantages to this management practice, such as workload/time savings and convenience, these same farmers are likely facing some tough decisions now as a result of N leaching and denitrification.



The warm temperatures this past fall and early spring would have started converting that pre-applied N into a nitrate form. Because nitrate (and the soil) are both negatively charged, it is subject to leaching as a result of rain. Excessive rain, like what most of the central Corn Belt has experienced this year, moves that nitrate N deep into the soil and out of reach of our young corn plants roots.


Not only can nitrate N leach, but it is also subject to loss via denitrification. When our soils become saturated, oxygen is unavailable and microbes that live in your soil need oxygen to survive. So what do those organisms do? Those little soil thieves take the oxygen from your precious, pre-applied N, which then escapes through the soil in a gaseous form.

Learning from The Past

It’s important to fully evaluate past data and our experiences from previous seasons. What we know is that four to six days of saturated soils can easily cause anywhere from 30 to 50 lb./A. or more of nitrate N loss through leaching and/or denitrification. In many cases, farmers who opted to apply their entire N application up front will now need to either consider budgeting for an additional N application or hope for an exceptional year of mineralization.

If recent history can tell us anything however, it’s unlikely that will happen. Last year, Midwest soils experienced exceptional mineralization as a result of the warm weather, excellent soil conditions, and good oxygen levels. Unfortunately, so far this year has an uncanny resemblance to 2015 where we saw excessive rains, maximum denitrification, and low levels of mineralization in the central Corn Belt.

Applying It to The Present

The main benefit of not applying all your N on upfront is that you can then react accordingly later in the season. And while we know that spilt applying pays, the next question we ask ourselves is, “how much do we need?” Beck’s Practical Farm Research (PFR)® team has been evaluating economic nitrogen rate (EONR) in corn after corn and corn after soybean rotations for eight years. In these studies, all entries received a portion of their N as UAN in a 2x2 application at planting which was followed by the PFR Proven™ practice of sidedressing the second half at the V3 growth stage. This multi-year, multi-location data indicates that in a corn after corn scenario, the EONR is anywhere from 216 to 221 lb./A. of N, based on a $0.50/unit N cost.


Similar to 2015, the EONR for your area could be even higher as the data from Beck’s PFR shows that typically the highest responses to higher amounts of N occur in the face of a lot of rain, maximum N loss, and minimal amounts of mineralization.


At this point in the season, it’s all about risk management. For farmers who plan on adding supplemental, late-season N applications may be rewarded with an economic return. Using things such as PFR Proven nitrogen sealers and N stabilizers can be beneficial in reducing loss.

To learn more about the EONR for your area, click on our regional results below.


Beck’s PFR is the largest source of unbiased, cutting-edge agronomic information in the industry. More than 110 different studies were conducted in 2016, comparing over 150 products across multiple locations to learn how different management practices and new technologies perform in field environments. In evaluating agronomic practices and input products, not comparing seed products, Beck’s PFR aims to help farmers maximize their input dollars and increase their bottom line. To view more studies from the 2016 PFR book, click here .

Practical Farm Research (PFR)® and PFR Proven™ are trademarks of Beck’s Superior Hybrids Inc.

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