Weather conditions halted nitrogen applications last fall, and with a wet start to spring, it’s likely farmers’ fertilizer plans will remain behind schedule. With March in full swing, farmers may soon need to weigh their options on how and when to apply nitrogen and still hit optimum planting dates.
“At this point, we are about 65 percentage behind what we’d normally see for applied nitrogen,” says Kent Nichols, agronomy field sales manager for Kansas ag retailer MKC. “I know farmers are concerned with getting their nitrogen on before planting and the weather is certainly not cooperating so far this season.”
Jason Welker, Mycogen Seeds commercial agronomist for western Nebraska, says there are still several valid options for farmers to apply the required nitrogen.
“Many farmers in my area plan to do a burndown and get in the field, putting aside their pre-planting nitrogen applications,” Welker says. “It’s about adjusting the game plan to get nitrogen on.”
Welker recommends two options if farmers chose to move N applications to post-planting:
- 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.
Pre-planting nitrogen applications may still be an option
While adjusting pre-planting nitrogen applications to in-season is an option, Missouri Mycogen Seeds commercial agronomist Cody Cornelius says farmers may still have time to apply anhydrous prior to planting.
“For dryland, minimum tillage acres we need to prioritize anhydrous applications,” Cornelius says. “Though, urea and UAN can be good options especially if they can be incorporated into the soil.”
On dryland acres, Cornelius says, anhydrous is the best option. Dry fertilizer requires moisture to get the fertilizer into the soil, which is never a guarantee.
“As we think about timing, we really have up to May 10 to get 90 percent yield potential for corn,” Cornelius says. “If we get a window of dry weather in the first couple of weeks of April, we will still have time to apply anhydrous.”
Cornelius offers recommendations for farmers able to apply pre-planting:
- 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 available for when corn plants need it most.
- Wait five to seven days following an anhydrous application to plant.
“Fertility, planting, field work, weather — it’s all a huge concern right now, and farmers are definitely getting uneasy with spring conditions and the amount of work that needs to get done,” Cornelius says. “Patience is a real virtue this year. We need to wait until field conditions are right to get the crop off to the best start.”