Dry Soils and Nitrogen Application. What should I do?
Welcome back to JJ in the field, I’m your host, Jonah Johnson. So, we are dealing with dry conditions. Water is evaporating from our soils; corn is at sidedress, top dress height right now. Growers are trying to continue to work in the fields, obviously. Today’s question revolves around, should I keep adding nitrogen to the soil, considering how dry is?
We all know we need moisture for mass flow from the nitrogen source to get the solution to move into those root zones so that plants can uptake that. If you look at the field behind me, obviously it’s a very dry situation. Dry soils planted around May 20th had very little rain and the corn has kept growing and emerged and has been growing surprisingly fast, which is telling me, and perhaps in your own situation, that the corn’s found moisture enough for it to grow.
Considering that there is moisture below our feet currently right now, if you dig down you will find some moisture. And if we’re side dressing or top dressing, our nitrogen application right now, that’s something we need to really consider. What does it cost you if you shut down right now and then apply any more nitrogen?
If we break this down, there are two camps. Are you injecting below ground or are you applying on top ground? So, if we first talk about, we’re putting nitrogen, whether it’s a UAN solution or anhydrous ammonia in the soil, think about if you are injecting right now that you’re getting below the ground, probably anywhere from 3 to 6 inches.
And chances are the deeper you go, the more moisture we’re going to find that will begin to go into a solution with the soil moisture that is there. So obviously, the UAN is a solution already and it gets diluted and goes into a mass flow situation, once it gets moisture, that will become available to our plants once those roots get to that band.
If you’re a Y-dropper right now, some guys I work with either Y-drop when the plants are younger, they may wait on the corn, get some height to it and go and Y-drop or there’s some application coming out there that has the ability to inject in the center and Y-drop at the same time or vice versa.
Consider again UAN is a solution and that will go in those plants because if you think about it, you’re putting that band right on top of the root zone and that linear cornrow, and that will get into the plant initially because its placement is so much closer via band. I encourage you to keep trucking, if you will, right now with our nitrogen application, because as we have moisture, obviously if we don’t get a rain, that moisture is going to start to diminish.
And if we can get that nitrogen in solution, it won’t go anywhere because the nitrosomonas, nitrobacter bacteria in the soil. They’re going to be dry too. And they won’t be as active as breaking down those nitrogen sources. The urea and the ammonium component of in the UAN is going to be quite stable on its own.
And then the nitrate fraction, which is going to be really up-takeable, those are all about to go in the solution and be available to that plant quickly. But we’re not going to lose those because we’re not in a situation where we get into a denitrification or ponding type situation that would encourage leaching. So, keep that in mind.
Anhydrous ammonia, that’s going to be a stable source regardless as it goes in the soil. Obviously, we’d like to see a little bit of moisture to seal that application slot, but again, you’re injecting that quite deep, typically seven or eight inches unless you’re using a high-speed toolbar. In those deeper situations, again, we will find moisture enough to seal that and retain that nitrogen around for those plants.
So ultimately the situations that I’m listing, what we don’t want to happen is that corn plants start to bolt and then either we can’t get back in once rains do return if we get into a very wet situation because, obviously, that that’s a bad day. If we can’t supply nitrogen in a timely order. The other side of the fraction is guys that typically top dress their corn.
Whether you’re using a urea or AMS type product, ammonium sulfate is going to be a very stable product on its own. The sulfur proponent in that fertilizer essentially gives you a time delayed release. The sulfur has to be oxidized in the soil for that sulfur and ammonium to be released or the sulfur protects the ammonium of the nitrogen proponent.
I don’t have concerns about that on the refraction, whether you’re using the blend or urea by itself. I do encourage you to use a NBPT stabilizer on your application because as you can see, hot, sunny days, intense sunlight, lots of U.V. light, it’s going to be penetrating and warming the soil surface that will break those urea pearls down very quickly.
Then there’s been a questions asked about, well, what about the urea enzyme, which is a naturally occurring enzyme on the in the soil and in biomass that initially starts to break urea down? Does that need a lot of moisture for that that process to begin? And the answer is, it does need moisture. But my concern is, the bright sunshine and the winds is going to start breaking that down and make that release ammonia up into the atmosphere if we don’t protect it.
My encouragement to you considering top dressing corn right now, I think we need to break that application in two camps, whether you have the opportunity to apply on your own or not. So, you have a spinner spreader machine or your own spreader where you can get over your own crop in a timely order. Then you have time, and you could apply at your own pace.
Now, for a lot of us who depend on custom application, whether it’s from Sunrise or other vendors across Ohio, there’s a big concern that if we do, if you guys wait till the last minute when a rain is in the forecast and everybody does that, there’s just may not be enough physical time and manpower and equipment to get the application on when you want it.
I would like to encourage you to consider still applying your products right now, because if we don’t, we get in a situation where the corn is going to bolt and either we can’t get over it and make as accurate an application as possible. Because the taller the corn gets, it’s going to essentially interrupt the perfect distribution that’s coming out of the back of a spinner spreader machine.
If that’s not allowing a perfect spread on the width of that machine, then we can encourage some parts of the field that may not get the rate that was prescribed for it. So, keep that in mind. Also with that, you know, if we get wet, we get rain back in the forecast and it stays wet and then the corn keeps growing, we may not get in there in a timely matter and trying to get an airplane to spread urea or a helicopter, or finding someone with a high clearance machine, whether it’s Y-drops dribbling down the center row, that’s never a good day and could be another headache.
So that’s why I bring these points to you, for you to consider on your operation.
Lastly, if you have crop insurance, keep in mind that if you’re protecting your revenue through that investment that you know we’re still going to have a great opportunity for a good crop this year. There’s been very few years in the past minus 1988 was probably one of the worst years if you if you can think back that far. But even in 2012, when we had the most recent really severe drought here in Ohio, we still had corn that yielded, we still had crops that came up and maybe not perform like we want them to, but my point is that there’s very few years where we had a complete failure out there. So, we still want to try to do the best we can for the crop we have out there.
If you have further questions, please reach out to any of us within Sunrise, your ASAs, anybody on the PCT team, including myself we would love to help walk you through your scenario and hopefully help you with some technical advice to address your specific need on your farm.
Take home message is I think we need to keep applying our nitrogen, whether it’s side dress or top dress.
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End-of-season stalk nitrate testing can help you measure whether your crop received adequate nitrogen. The test measures the amount of nitrogen returned to the stalk after grain fill. Therefore, if your corn stalk ends the season with adequate nitrate, then you know nitrogen sufficiently flowed from the seed, to grain and back to stalk.
When to Sample
How to Sample
|PPM NO3||TEST LEVEL|
*Universities have published different NO3 levels as as low, adequate and excessive levels.