Home » Fertilizer » In-season N application methods for Sorghum

In-season N application methods for Sorghum

Raedan Sharry, Ph.D. candidate under advisement of B. Arnall
Brian Arnall, Precision Nutrient Management Specialist

The data about to be reported is from the study we have fondly named “Burn Baby Burn”, you will see why soon enough.

Grain Sorghum production continues to be an important component of many growers crop rotations in the Great Plains. However, for many growers who focus primarily on small grains production, equipment restraints may impose limits on in season nitrogen (N) management. When producers are able to delay the application until in-season it helps to ensure that N is available to the crop at the time of increased uptake during the reproductive stages of the crops life. Producers often have access to equipment and technologies that may be used to take advantage of improved N application timing, but may worry about the negative effects that nitrogen can have if the fertilizer is inadvertently applied to plant material. An experiment was initiated in Central Oklahoma to evaluate the yield response of grain sorghum to in-season nitrogen application methods.

Trials were placed at Lake Carl Blackwell near Stillwater, Perkins and Chickasha Oklahoma and included 9 in-season fertilization methods and a 0 nitrogen control. Treatments are listed in Table 1 below.

In total 120 lbs of N was applied to all treatments receiving in-season applications. 60 lbs was applied at planting to all treatments including the “Zero N Control”. The remaining 60 lbs. of N was applied according to application method in-season. The urea was applied by hand and the liquid treatments a push cart with adjustable boom height (Figure 1) was used to apply the UAN. Applications were made mid day at V8 growth stage. The temperature at the time of all applications was about 90 F and humidity below 75%. Nozzle position for 30″ and 60″ was set for between rows.

Figure 1 In-season nitrogen application using the T-bar 20″ treatment.

At two of the three locations (Stillwater and Perkins) the addition of 60 lbs. of N in-season increased yield above the control treatment. At the Stillwater (Lake Carl Blackwell) location there were no statistical differences (α=0.05) between in-season fertilized treatments except the T-Bar 20” treatment (Figure 2). The Perkins location (Figure 3) provided a similar result in which again there was no statistical difference between fertilized treatments, excluding the T-Bar 20” treatment.

Figure 2. Grain yield (bu/ac) in a grain sorghum N application study located near Stillwater, OK.
Figure 3. Grain yield (bu/ac) in a grain sorghum N application study located at Perkins, OK.

The Chickasha location differed in that additional in-season nitrogen did not improve yield (Figure 4). While we want a response to applied N, in the case it allows use to solely evaluate the impact of burn associated with N application. The T-bar 20” treatment statistically negatively impacted grain yield and the FlatFan-20″ did at α=0.10, which means we are only 90% confident the yield lose was due to treatment. This response has been consistent across all three locations, on average decreasing yield approximately 21 bu/ac relative to the individual site grain yield average.

Figure 4. Grain yield (bu/ac) of a grain sorghum N application study at Chickasha, OK.

Even though it was mentioned for Chickasha, it is also important to note that while it was not statistically significant (α=0.05) the FF- 20” treatment (Flat Fan nozzles above canopy on 20” spacing) trended towards decreasing yields at all 3 locations and is likely detrimental to crop performance. At all locations substantial damage to leaf material was observed, similar to that pictured in Figure 5 below. Several of the treatments damaged leaf material on the plant through burn injury, but most were not negatively impactful on grain yield in the 2021 growing season. Grain sorghum yield did not benefit from moving the application point below the canopy using drop attachments, nor did adjusting nozzle spacing from 30 to 60”.  Source was not a significant factor impacting grain yield regardless of it application method.

Figure 5. Aerial image of plots located at Perkins, OK in a grain sorghum in-season nitrogen application study.

The observations from this study show that many of the in-season nitrogen application methods that are available to growers will not negatively impact yield. This however does not apply to tools such as the T-Bar. Similar tools that concentrate large amounts of N to leaf material are also likely to produce similar results.  It is important to note that the T-bar was used on 20” spacings and not tested otherwise. Moving the spacing of the T-bar may lead to different results.

Growers who are looking to move N applications in their grain sorghum crop to in-season to capture the benefits associated will likely be able to with equipment that is already available to them. While leaf damage may be observed under sub-optimal application methods, damage is unlikely to contribute to significant yield loss. However, growers should keep in mind that environmental conditions may have a significant impact on the results seen from these types of application as growers should always look to limit stress to the plant when possible.

We of course will be putting out a second year of this study and will share the results when we can.

For more information or questions contact
Brian Arnall b.arnall@okstate.edu 405.744.1722

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