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A common question most soil fertility specialist receive goes along the lines of “Where anhydrous ammonia has been one of the cheapest N formulations available, dry fertilizers can also be competitive. From a cost and effectiveness perspective, which is going to be the better deal this year?” This question was recently posed to Agronomist Fields Notes of The Wheat Farmer/Row Crop Farmer produced by Layton Ehmke. What follows is a more in depth version of the response I provide to Layton.
Unfortunately if all angles are considered this is not an easy answer as determining which nitrogen product is a multi-faceted issue.
First there is the easy aspect, N price. At the time of writing this the local quote at Two Rivers Link is
NH3: 82-0-0 $490 a ton / .30 $ lb N
Urea: 46-0-0 $340 a ton / .37 $ lb N
UAN: 28-0-0 $230 a ton / .41 $ lb N
So on the outside looking in at just the price per 100 pounds of N applied NH3 is $7.00 cheaper than Urea and $11.00 less than UAN.
However the second part of the equation is application cost. Looking at the custom rate for 2015-2016 provide in the OSU Current Report 205 which outlines Oklahoma Farm and Ranch Custom Rates. While these are higher than if the producer owns the equipment it is still a good estimate which accounts for time, service, and repair. The average NH3 application cost is $13.75 while spreading dry fertilizer is $5.41 per acre. The cost of running a sprayer is similar to sprMy Siteeader per acre. So if application and N cost is taken into account at 100 lbs N per acre NH3 is $1.34 cheaper. However the amount of N really impacts this last calculation at 50 lbs of N per acre urea is $4.84 per acre cheaper while at 200 lbs NH3 is $5.66 per acre cheaper.
The third consideration should be the efficiency of the fertilizer. I could and should right a blog solely on the efficiency of nitrogen fertilizer applications. However that is a big mud hole I do not quite have the time to get into. So what follows are a few general consideration. Spring applied urea on no-till will have a significantly higher potential for N loss, from urea volatilization, than NH3 knifed in. Surface applied urea not quickly incorporated in via rain or tillage (added cost) is easily subject to losses greater than 33%. While NH3 applied with proper soil moisture and good seal will have losses in the single digits. The losses from UAN is somewhere between Urea and NH3 as only 50% of the N in UAN is urea. Also method (steamer/flat fan), percent canopy coverage, residue level, and weather will play a part. However is all in is applied pre-plant and NH3 but urea or UAN is applied in season there may be more losses from NH3. The loss of N should be taken into account and added to the cost of N. Lost in could be estimated in two ways, the cost of replacing lost N or the cost of lost yield. To figure replacement take the pounds of N needed (100 lbs) divide by the efficiency, in this case lets say you will lose 20% so 100/.8 = 125. So to get 100 lbs of N to the crop you much apply 125, which increased total N cost to $46.25 per acre. On the flip side if you lose 20% of 100 lbs and needed all 100 lbs of N then you stand to lose (20 lbs N / 2 lbs N per bushel) 10 bushel at $4.00 per bushel.
The final consideration is the ease and or efficiency of use. Some will choose a high priced product because they would prefer not to work with NH3 due to its challenging properties. The ease of use is also where the liquids (UAN) shine. On sight storage of UAN requires the least amount of infrastructure and transport is fairly easy.
The application cost of liquid is nearly the same as dry so considering the prices above 100 lbs of N as UAN will cost $4.00 per acre more. However a 100’ sprayer can cover approximately 30 acres per hour more than a spreader with a 60’ swath (Iowa State Pub). Below is a table that provides a few common applicator widths and speeds. If you consider the average NH3 rig will run 6 mph while spinners commonly run at 12 mph, you can cover significantly more ground with urea. Add to the equation a big sprayer and flat long field and applicators can covers a lot of ground quickly with UAN. So if time is of the essences it makes perfect sense to spend more per pound of N to get it on faster.
In the end the right source often comes down to the specific situation, time, and personal preferences. If you take all of the variables into account, you will be making best decision possible based upon the information available.
If you have any questions or comments please feel free to contact me.
Precision Nutrient Management
Every year in August and early September I get the question “How soon after applying NH3 can I sow wheat?”. Typically my answer has been a conservative one which takes into account rate, depth, spacing and soil moisture to end up with a range of 3 days to a week. The concern with anhydrous application is that when NH3 is placed in the soil it immediately turns into NH4 by striping H from H2O. This action releases OH into the soil in increases pH, depending on rate pH can reach 10.0 this hike in soil pH is a short term as the system disperrses and NH4 immediately begins the conversion to NO3 release H and driving down pH. The high pH in itself is not the problem but if the pH is still high and soil dries the OH will strip H from NH4 and NH3 is formed. The ammonia gas (NH3) is what can easily damage the sensitive seedling.
After fielding several calls in one day I wanted to dig a bit deeper and see what the science and specialist say. I was hoping for a nice consensus, haven’t found that yet. Here are some snip-its.
From Kansas State University
Dr. Dave Mengel
As a general rule, wait about 7 to 10 days between the anhydrous ammonia application and wheat planting. The higher the nitrogen rates and the wider the spacing (creating a higher concentration of ammonia in the band), the longer period of time you should wait. Also, in dry soils you may need to wait longer.
Canada Grains Council’s Complete Guide to Wheat Management Link
In the past, it was recommended that seeding be delayed for two days after banding anhydrous ammonia (NH3). However, in many soils as long as the NH3 is placed 5- 7.5 cm ( 2-3 inches) away from the seed, NH3 can be applied at the time of seeding. Seed damage from NH3 is most likely to occur under dry conditions on sandy soils when there is insufficient separation from the seed. Placement of fertilizer nitrogen should be deeper in sandy soils than in loams or heavy textured soils. Narrow band spacing 25 to 30 cm (10-12 in) is better than wider band spacing particularly under low moisture conditions.
From University on Minnesota
Peer reviewed publication
VARVEL: EFFECTS OF ANHYDROUS AMMONIA ON WHEAT AND BARLEY AGRONOMY JOURNAL, VOL. 74. NOVEMBER-DECEMBER 1982
Field experiments were conducted 1979-1981 on a Wheatville loam soil. The treatments consisted of three rates of N as anhydrous ammonia (45, 90, and 135 kg/ha) in 1979 and four rates of N (0, 45, 90, and 135 kg/ ha) in 1980-1981 at three depths (8,16, and 24 cm) in all combinations. Spring wheat and barley were then seeded at three different times. Seedling stand counts, grain yield, and protein were used to determine the effect of the treatments. Seedling stands were reduced in some cases, but no reduction in grain yield or protein was obtained due to the reduction in stand. The most important factor in spring anhydrous application was the depth of application, which caused greater moisture loss and seedbed disruption at the 24-cm application depth.
Spring wheat and barley response to N rates was similar at all depths of application (no significant interaction between N rate and application depth). The results indicate that anhydrous ammonia can be applied safely at planting time on spring wheat and barley, if applied at the 8 to 16 cm depth and at N rates currently used in the northern Great Plains.
From University on Minnesota (referring to corn) link
The only risk of planting soon after AA application is if seeds fall within the ammonia retention zone. To avoid seedling injury separation in time or space can be important. Under ideal soil moisture conditions and proper application depth of a typical agronomic rate normally there is little risk of seedling injury even if planted on top of the application zone right after AA application. That said, this can be risky and I would not recommend planting on top of the AA row. If you have RTK guidance it is very easy to apply AA between the future corn rows. If RTK guidance is not an option, I would recommend applying AA on an angle to the direction of planting to minimize the potential for planting on top of the AA band. If application conditions are less than ideal and you have no RTK guidance to ensure a safe distance from the AA band, then waiting 3 to 5 days before planting is typically enough time to reduce the risk of seedling injury.
From University on Wisconsin (referring to corn) Link
The depth of NH3 placement was the greatest factor in determined potential seedling damage. The time after application had little impact.
Iowa State University (referring to corn)
by Regis Voss, extension agronomist, Department of Agronomy
The wet fall and spring will cause anhydrous ammonia application and corn planting date to be close. This will lead to the oft asked question, “How long do I have to wait to plant corn after ammonia application?” If there is a soil separation between the ammonia zone and the seed, planting can be done the same day the ammonia is applied. If the seed is to be placed in the ammonia zone, the longer the waiting period the less potential for root injury. There is no magic number of days to wait.
My take home from several hours of reading research articles and factsheets was my favorite answer IT DEPENDS. I believe Regis Voss with ISU had it right, there is no magic number. The important aspects for determining time will be 1) Soil Moisture 2) N rate 3) Depth and 4) shank spacing. From the reading I think there may be some general rules of thumb.
On the conservative side with good soil moisture, NH3 placed at 6″ deep, rate below 80 lbs and spacing of about 15″ the next day should be ok. As any one of these factors change (drier soil, higher rates, shallower application, wider rows) the more time should be added to reduce risk. One thing to consider is field variability. While the field on average may have great moisture there could be dry spots, while on average you are 6″ deep with the NH3 there are areas the rig is bound to rise up and go shallow. So there is always a chance for hot spots. All of that said I could not find any research on this topic for winter wheat in the southern Great Plains much less Oklahoma. I will always tend to the safe side and suggest if possible to delay sowing a few days after applying anhydrous. However if time is critical proceed with caution.
Looks like I can add one more project to my list and I need to find some open ground and do some “Experimenting”.
Happy Sowing All!