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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).
In the spring of 2014 we initiated what was to be the first year of a three year project evaluating starter fertilizers for soybean production in the southern Great Plains. The first and second year was and is being funded by the Oklahoma Soybean Board.
Year one was a bit experimental in that with so many products on the market we needed some initial work to help focus the direction for years two and three. I also added a treatment which I knew would have significant negative impact, for extension reasons. Keep in mind two locations in a single year does not make an experiment nor provide enough information to draw a definite conclusion. It is however enough to learn some lessons from and for us to plan for our 2015 trials.
The 2014 trial consisted of 12 treatments, Figure 1 and Figure 2. In these treatments I wanted to see the impact of a standard practice, see if a specific nutrient may be more so beneficial, and evaluate a few popular products. The spring of 2014 started out dry so at one of our two locations we pre-watered. This was done by hauling water to the Lake Carl Blackwell (LCB) 1000 gallons at a time and pumping through sprinklers. The other site, Perkins, we delayed planting until we had moisture.
The two locations were also selected due to differences in soil fertility. The LCB site is has good soil fertility, with exception of phosphorus (P), and the Perkins site pH was an issue. I would have expected a benefit from adding P at both of these locations. Figure 4 shows the soil test results.
At LCB as expected some of the treatments (Thio-Sul) reduced stand, some unexpectedly reduced stand (Fe) and others had less impact on stand (APP 5.0) than expected. The growth at LCB was tremendous, the 30 in rows covered over very quickly and the majority of the treatments hit me waist high by early August (I am 6’0”). Many of the treatments showed greater growth than check. But when it comes down to it, grain pays and green does not. Statistically there were no treatments that out preformed the un-treated check, however the K-Leaf and 9-18-9 did make 3 and 2 bpa more than the check respectively. What I am hypothesizing at this site is that the added nutrients, especially those with high P levels, significantly increased vegetative grown and these big plants were delayed into going reproductive and they started setting pods later in much hotter weather. While riding in the combine I could see that the plots with compact plants with clearly defined rows out yielded those were the vines had crossed over and we harvested through more of a solid mat of mature plants. A hot August is not uncommon and I am curious on whether this trend repeats itself. If it does this may direct us into research evaluating ways to force/promote the reproductive stage to start in these big plants. Even if we can force flowering to start earlier, it’s unknown whether yields will increase or not.
The same trends in treatments reducing stand can be seen at Perkins, however the impact was less extreme. Perkins being planted later due to waiting on moisture forced a later flowering date and I believe reduced overall yields. But the addition of P at this low pH site definitely made a difference. While again no treatments were statistically greater than the un-treated check the 2.5 gpa APP, DAP broadcast, APP/H2O, and Pro-Germ/H20 treatments increased yield by 5.6, 4.2, 3.8 and 1.7 bpa respectively.
Take home from year one was that at LCB the addition of a starter fertilizer had little benefit and if done wrong could cost you yield while at the low pH site of Perkins an addition 2.5 gallons of APP did get a 5 bpa bump, but do to variability in the trial the increase was not statistically significant. This year we will drop some of the treatments and incorporate a few new treatments. Based on the current weather we look to potentially being able to start with better soil moisture at planting. Again do not take this work and significantly adjust any plans you have for your 2015 soybean crop. This is however some interesting findings that I wanted to share and make everyone aware of. Finally thank you to the Oklahoma Soybean Board for providing funding for this work. www.oksoy.org/
In this blog I am not going to tell you what to use or what not to use. In fact I will not mention a single product name. What I will do is hopefully provide some food for thought, new knowledge and direction.
First I want to approach a topic I have been called out on several times. I believe there is a stigma that University researchers and extension specialists do not want products to work. It may seem that way at times but it is far from the truth. The reality is that all of us are scientists and know someone may be inventing the product that changes nutrient management as we speak. The issue is that most of us have been jaded. While I may be younger I have over 11 years experience, testing “products” in the field, and that includes dozens of products. I have sprayed, spread, tossed, drilled, mixed and applied everything under the sun, with hopes that I will see that one thing I am always looking for, MORE GRAIN…
The truth is Everything works Sometimes yet Nothing works ALL the time. I and others in my profession do not expect anything to work 100% of the time, I am personally looking for something that will provide a checkmark in the win column 50% of the time. A win is the result of one of two things, more money in the producers pocket or less nutrients in the water or air. Products can increase vigor, nutrient uptake, chlorophyll concentration, greenness but not yield. What Co-op or elevator pays for any of those attributes? Grain makes green.
So many safeners, stabilizers, enhancers, biologicals, and on and on are available, so what should a producer do? Here are few things to think about. Ask yourself “ what part of my nutrient management plan can I get the most bang from improving”?
If the answer is Nitrogen (N) there are three basic categories: Urease inhibition, Nitrification inhibitor, and slow release. All are methods of preventing loss; the last two are preventing loss from water movement.
Urease inhibitors prevent the conversion of Urea to NH3 (ammonia). This conversion is typically a good thing, unless it happens out in the open. Ideally any urea containing product is incorporated with tillage or rain. However, in No-till when urea is broadcast and no significant rainfall events (>0.5”) occur, N loss is likely. The urea prill starts dissolving in the presence of moisture, this can be a light rain or dew, and urease starts converting urea into NH3. As the system dries and the day warms, if there was not enough moisture to move the NH3 into the soil the wind will drive NH3 into the atmosphere. Nitrogen loss via this pathway can range from 5% to 40% of the total N applied.
Nitrification inhibitors prevent the conversion of NH4 into NO3. Both are plant available N sources but NH4 is a positively charged compound that will form a bound with the negatively charged soil particles. Nitrate (NO3) is negatively charged and will flow with the water, in corn country that tends to be right down the tile drainage. Nitrate will also be converted to gasses under wet water logged soil conditions. Nitrate is lost in the presence of water, this means I do not typically recommend nitrification inhibitors for western OK, KS, TX dryland wheat producers.
Slow release N (SRN) comes in a range of forms: coated, long chain polymer, organic and many versions in each category. Again, water is the reason for the use of SRN sources. Slow release N whether coated or other have specific release patterns which are controlled by moisture, temperature and sometimes microbes. The release patterns of SRNS are not the same and may not work across crops and landscapes. For instance in Oklahoma the uptake pattern of nutrients for dryland corn in the North East is not that same as irrigated corn in the West. The little nuances in the growth pattern of a crop can make or break your SRN.
While N products have been on the market for decade’s phosphorus enhancers and stabilizers are relatively new, resulting in many of my peers holding back on providing recommendations until field trials could be conducted. At this point many of us do have a better understanding of what’s available and are able to provide our regional recommendations. Phosphorus products are not sold to prevent loss like their N counterparts; they are sold to make the applied P more available. On a scale of 1 to 10, P reactivity with other elements in the soil is a 9.9. If there is available Ca, Mg, Fe, or Al, phosphorus is reacting with it. In the southern Great Plains it is not uncommon for a soil to have 3,000-5,000 lbs of available Ca, a soil with a pH of 4, yes we have many of those, will have approximately 64,000 lbs of Al in the soil solution. That’s a lot of competition for your fertilizer P and for any substance that is trying to protect it.
I have been testing “biologicals” of all shapes and forms since 2003. While I have not hit any homeruns I have learned quite a bit. Many of these products originate from up north where the weather is kind and organic matter (OM) is high. Where I work the average OM is 0.75% and soil temp is brutal and unforgiving. Our soil does not have many reserves to release nor is it hospitable to foreign bodies.
I hope you are still hanging on as this next topic is a bit of a soap box for me. Rate, Rate, Rate this aspect is missed both by producers and academia and it drives me crazy. If your crop is sufficient in any growth factor adding more will not increase yield. It goes back to Von Liebig’s LAW of the Minimum. I see too many research studies in which products are tested at optimum fertilization levels. This is just not a fair comparison. On the other hand, time and again I see producers sold on a product because they applied 30% less N or P and cut the same yield. If you let me hand pick 100 farms in Oklahoma I could reduce the N rate by 30% of the average and not lose a bushel on 75 of the farms. Why? Because the rate being used was above optimum in the first place, there is no magic just good agronomy. The list of products that increase the availability of nutrients is a mile long. Increasing nutrient availability is all well and good if you have a deficiency of one of those nutrients. If you don’t, well you have increased the availability of something you did not need in the first place.
University researchers and extension professionals seem to live and die by the statistics, and are told so regularly. We do rely upon the significant differences, LSD’s, and etc to help us understand the likely hood of a treatment causing an effect. However if I see a trend develop, or not develop, over time and landscape regardless of stats I will have no problem making recommendations. The stats help me when I do not have enough information (replications).
Too wrap up, have a goal. Do not just buy a product because of advertised promises or because a friend sells it. There is a right time and place for most of the things out there, but you need to know what that is and if it suits your needs. I also recommend turning to your local Extension office. We do our best to provide unbiased information in hopes of making your operation as sustainable as possible. If you are looking at making sizable investments do some reading, more than just Google. Testimonies are great but should but should not be enough to cut a check. Google Scholar www.google.com/scholar is a good resource for scientific pubs. I have done my best to put together a list of peer reviewed publications and their outcomes. To make the review work I had to be very general about outcome of the research. Either the product increased yield or decreased environmental losses or it had no impact. This was not easy as many of the papers summarize multiple studies. I did my best to make an unbiased recommendation but some could be argued. http://npk.okstate.edu/Trials/products/Product_Peer_Review.8-21-2014.pdf
The last of the Precision Nutrient Management winter crop harvest was wrapped up in Chickasha June 25. Across the trial locations (Lahoma, Perkins, Chickasha, and Stillwater) the yields came in across the board in the high teens low twenties, bushel per acre. For most of the trials there was very little treatment difference, often the check ( Zero N) was not far from the fertilized plots. At this time the students are processing the grain. Some will be sent to a NIR Spectrophotometer for protein analysis the rest will be ground and analyzed for nitrogen and mineral content. The response to fertilizer was so low this year many of my trial areas have a double crop sorghum growing, in hopes to take advantage of the recent rains and harvest the residual nutrients. While I am processing the data and the students are running the samples I thought I would share a few of the images from the 2014 harvest. I will post results on the npk.okstate.edu as the become available and share the information on this blog. The best way to learn when results are posted are to follow me on Twitter @OSU_NPK or subscribe to our Extension news list serve (send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to be added to the listserv).