Spring is the time that many wheat producers apply herbicide and nitrogen (N) fertilizer. For many this can be accomplished in a single pass by tank mixing the herbicide and UAN. In most cases this is an effective practice which eliminates one pass over the field. There are some scenarios in which this practice is ill advised. One such scenario is high temperatures which would lead to excessive leaf burn and crop damage. The other scenario is no-till and that will be the focus of this article. Ruling out warm temperature tank mixing herbicides and nitrogen, assuming the herbicide can be tank mixed, is a good practice. No-till on the other hand can be a different issue.
The problem in no-till comes from the liquid application method needed to apply herbicides, flat flan. To get a good kill with the herbicide the spray pattern needs to have good coverage, i.e a lot of small droplets to ensure maximum surface area impacted. Unfortunately there are four primary fates of UAN when applied via flat fan nozzles. The UAN could be taken directly up into the wheat plant via absorption through the leaves, the UAN could reach the soil and go into the soil solution or absorbed onto the soil itself, the UAN can be taken up by weeds, or the UAN droplet may hit dead plant tissue and be adsorbed into the residue.
The fourth fate of UAN presented is what can make the tank mix less efficient than a two pass system. In a no-till system any UAN that hits residue should be counted as lost, for the short term. The decision to go with a one pass or two pass system can be aided by evaluating the amount of canopy coverage. For example if the no-till field has 50% canopy coverage then one could estimate 50% of the UAN applied via a one pass system would be tied up in the residue. The cost of a second application could then be compared to the lost N. If 15 gallon of 28-0-0 was being applied then approximately 22.5 lbs of N would be tied up by the straw. At a price of $0.40 per lb on N, that is $9.00 worth of N. Conversely if the canopy coverage was 80% only 20% or 9 lbs of N would be tied up in the residue. Saving the $3.60 in nitrogen would not justify a second trip over the field. Luckily OSU recently released the Canopeo app which uses a cell phones camera to take pictures and quickly and accurately determine % canopy coverage. Canopeo is available for iOS and android http://canopeoapp.com/.
In fields with a high amount of residue or limited canopy coverage UAN should be applied with streamer nozzles. This will concentration the fertilizer into streams which will allow the UAN to have enough volume to move off the residue and into the soil.
So as the decision is being made to tank mix herbicide and UAN or make two passes take into consideration: % canopy coverage, rate of UAN (how much could be lost), cost of UAN per pound, and cost of a second trip over the field.
Below is an excerpt from the publication Best Management Practices for Nitrogen Fertilizer in Missouri; Peter C. Scharf and John A. Lory. http://plantsci.missouri.edu/nutrientmanagement/nitrogen/practices.htm
Broadcasting UAN solution (28 percent to 32 percent N) is not recommended when residue levels are high because of the potential for the N in the droplets to become tied up on the residue. Dribbling the solution in a surface band will reduce tie-up on residue, and knife or coulter injection will eliminate it. Limited research suggests that the same conclusions probably apply for grass hay or pasture. Broadcast UAN solution is also susceptible to volatile loss of N to the air in the same way as urea, but only half as much will be lost (half of the N in UAN solution is in the urea form).
When drilling canola a common strategy to improve seeding rate accuracy is to only use every other row which effectively doubles the rate of seed going through each meter. There are also many producers who utilize air seeders and just prefer the wider spacing. Every season I get several questions about determining total fertilizer rates if the seed is dropped every other row but fertilizer is dropped every row. Regardless of whether or not fertilizer goes down every row it is important that the amount of salts placed with seed does not exceed the limit. The table below provide the limits in terms of lbs of salt per acre. If using 18-46-0 (DAP) or 11-52-0 (MAP) this is equivalent to pounds of N per acre. However if the fertilizer you use contains potassium (K) or sulfur (S), those have to be considered. An easy rule of thumb for determining total salt level of a fertilizer is pounds of N + K + 1/2 S.
In a scenario in which canola is seeded in skip rows but every row will get fertilizer the total amount of fertilizer can be doubled. For example on a 15″ row spacing the max salt rate is 5 lbs per acre. If you were using DAP as your starter that maximum rate to place in furrow would be 28 lbs of DAP per acre. If using a drill set of 7.5″ spacing and putting fertilizer down every row the max rate would increase up to 56 lbs DAP per acre.
Some producers may have the capability of applying different rate in every other row. In this scenario it is important to maintain that safe rate in the seed furrow. In the opposite row, fertilizer rate can go as high as you wish or the equipment can handle.
Now the big question is, “Is between row fertilization a good idea?” While we do not have results on this style of application (trials will be going out this year) we can draw upon upon similar work in other crops. For me the best win would be the second scenario in which a higher rate could be place between the rows. In this row I would use a urea and DAP blend. Any time we can put urea below the soil surface its a win and in fields with very soil soil test phosphorus (P) it would create something similar to the deep P bands once popular in corn production. Now if the field had adequate soil test P, I would focus on urea between rows. Keep in mind it is never a good to place urea in furrow with canola seed. For the average producer who is using a box drill the first scenario is the only option. In this case the rate of the between row bands will be reduced however I still believe on fields with very low soil test P this is potentially a great way to get the rest of it on. Remember if on 15″ and using DAP max rate only gets 12.9 lbs of P2O5 down. If fertilizer is dropped down every tube that number increases to about 26 lbs P2O5, which is still not enough for fields with low soil test P, but is better. With hope we will have some good results to share from the 2015-2016 canola crop.
It is that time of year, every Co-op I drove by the other day had a line of trucks pulling anhydrous tanks and the spinner spreaders were being loaded. For those of you who haven’t applied your nitrogen yet lets discuss the options traditional and nontraditional.
Anhydrous Ammonia, 82-0-0: by far the most widely used N source is the southern Great Plains. While it is not the most enjoyable to work with it is the cheapest per pound of N and that leads to its wide spread use without Oklahoma wheat production. Just a few simple rules with NH3, get it in the ground and close the row behind you. In conventional till this is usually easier unless the ground is too wet or too dry. In no-till this may be a little more challenging but usually easily accomplished. With the rise in low disturbance applicators I am seeing more and more acres of no-till receiving NH3. Last year I was in a field of stripper stubble and I had a hard time finding where the rig had run, minus wheel tracks.
Urea, 46-0-0: is second on the hit list in nitrogen sales in our state. It is a safe source that is easily handled and applied. In a conventional till system where the urea can be worked in shortly after application it is a very efficient and effective source. Unfortunately when it is applied to the soil surface and rain is the method of incorporation we can experience between 5-60% N losses. The losses come from how urea is converted to plant available ammonium (NH4). For urea (NH2)2CO2, to be converted to plant available NH4 it needs the enzyme urease. Urease is present everywhere but in the highest concentrations on plant residue. The figure below shows the reaction, urease converts urea into NH3 as soon as the prill dissolves. In the presence of moisture the NH3 (gas) is turned immediately to NH4 (solid) and is absorbed onto the soil particle.
The problems come when there is no soil particle for the NH4 to bind with. It usually takes 0.50 inches of rain or irrigation to fully dissolve and incorporate urea into the soil. So if we only get a few tenths or hundredths, even heavy dews, some of the urea will dissolve, be converted to NH3 then NH4 and be left on the plant/residue. When the moisture dries, some or all of the NH4 goes back to NH3 and will gas off into the atmosphere. I have even seen this happen when urea is applied on a wet/damp soil, not incorporated and it doesn’t rain for significant period of time. If the temps are cooler the urease is slower so less of the urea is converted to NH4, but if the temps are warm 60+ degrees these little enzymes can act very quickly.
Below is a short video on using urea fertilizer.
While the recent rains are a blessing and will surely help germination, it is not aiding our N use efficiency especially in no-till. That is why in some parts of the state you may see some grain drills running right now. Some of those producers are not planting wheat they are actually applying there pre-plant urea. I have even been told in the SW part of the start some producers are using air-seeders to apply their urea. While this seems like a costly venture I have worked with the Ag Economist to create a calculator to figure up the break even for when it would pay to use an air-seeder over the traditional spinner spreader in no-till. We hope to put the finishing touches on it in the next few days. When it is completed it will be shared on this blog.
Liquid Urea Ammonium Nitrate, 32-0-0 or 28-0-0: while this is one of the more expensive forms of N many producers are utilizing this source because the can pre buy and store on site and as sprayer get larger they can cover a significant amount of ground quickly. For the most part UAN is used in no-till and is a great source. I always recommend that applicators use streamer nozzle or streamer bars to apply UAN. When UAN is applied via a flat fan nozzle it spreads the fertilizer across the residue allowing a significant portion to be tied up. The streamers concentrate the fertilizer into streams/bands reducing contact with residue and increasing the amount of UAN that reaches the soil surface.
Timing and Rates
The cost of anhydrous, about $0.1 to 0.12 less per pound N less than urea is driving its use this year. The lower price is also driving a significant about of producers to go with 100% of their N pre-plant. While this makes for sound economics now having all of your N upfront is like putting all of your eggs in one basket. If we do get that cold and wet winter as some are calling for this presents a great chance for the N to move down the soil profile and down the slope. I have always recommended split application. This allows a producer to judge the crop throughout fall, winter and even yearly spring and adjust his or her N plan accordingly. For those who plan to graze there is still a need to get enough N down to produce fall forage, this may be 50 to 80 lbs of N, but for grain only production planted later in the fall a typical crop may only need 20-30 lbs of N before going into winter. The old rules of thumb, 2 lbs N per bushel and 30 lbs N per 100 lbs of gain still work and are better than a guestimate but we have better ways. Right now is the time to plan to apply N-rich strip, a strip in the field with 40 to 50 lbs more than the rest of the field. These strips can be applied with a variety of applicators, but as long as the N goes down in at least an area 10 ft wide by 300 ft long it is good to go.
Below is a N-Rich Strip 101 video.
If you have got the N-Rich strips out you can set back and watch to see when and if they develop. If you can see the strip you know you need too fertilize.
While many are not ready to think about top-dressing yet, it is never too early. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box. Oklahoma’s springs tend to present the perfect conditions for N loss when urea is the primary N source. This year in a 4R Top-dress Nitrogen Application Demo, at Lahoma and Chickasha, we are going to apply just about every available commercial source in about every possible manor. Urea will be broadcast, coated with inhibitors, applied with a grain drill, NH3 will be knifed in, and UAN will be applied with flat fan nozzles, streamer nozzles and knifed in. As technologies improve and the cost of N remains relatively high the options for top-dress N application will continue to improve. The economics of wheat production don’t look great right now so don’t be afraid to think outside the box, even if it does raise the eyebrows of your neighbors. Fill free to contact myself or your local extension educator if you have any questions about N application.