Farm Horizons, October 2012

Sidedressing nitrogen can be a good investment

By Dave Schwartz
Certified crop advisor, Gold Country Seed

A grower told me this fall he was pleased that he had decided to sidedress additional nitrogen on his corn crop in June. Why? His farm is located in an area that received heavy rains in late May and June, so he was afraid he had lost a portion of the nitrogen applied earlier in the season due to rainy weather.

This fall, his combine yield monitor is showing a 20-bushel-per-acre yield response from the additional 40 pounds of nitrogen he sidedressed in June.

The grower was fortunate he had left test strips, so he was able to positively recognize the yield difference was due to the additional nitrogen, and not some other management practice.

This grower's experience may be quite different from his neighbors, only a few miles away, who received less rainfall.

According to weather data provided by University of Minnesota Extension Climatologist Mark Seely at the University of Minnesota, weather observers in the Winsted area reported as much as 9.26 inches of rainfall between May 20 and May 28, and then an additional 4.42 inches during an eight-day period beginning June 14. These two time periods created ideal conditions for the loss of nitrogen – saturating soil for an extended period of time.

When nitrogen converts in soil to the nitrate form and soils become saturated, a portion of the nitrogen can either go up into the atmosphere as nitrogen gas in poorly-drained soils, or leach into the subsoil in coarser-textured soils. In both cases, nitrogen becomes unavailable to the crop.

Nitrogen is the one nutrient corn growers can least afford to be without if they plan to grow healthy corn plants.

As we begin planning for the 2013 growing season, it is advisable to develop a fertilizer plan that reduces the risk of nitrogen loss. Applying nitrogen in spring, rather than fall, is one management practice to consider. Another option is to use products that stabilize nitrogen – in other words, delay the conversion of nitrogen from ammonium to nitrate.

“Think safety” this fall during harvest.

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