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Don't Lose Your Shirt to Nitrogen Deficiency

June 17, 2013
Corn Field

Keep three things in mind to prevent nitrogen deficiency in your corn crop.

By Peter C. Scharf, University of Missouri

Plan. Watch. Act.

Those are my key recommendations to avoid losing your shirt to nitrogen deficiency in this year’s corn crop.

The Situation

Drenching rains since April 1 have endangered fertilizer nitrogen applied before that time, as well as nitrogen contributed by the soil. Over 58 million acres in the midwest received more than 16 inches of rain from April 1 to June 9. Iowa and Missouri lead the charge, with more than 15 million acres each, with Illinois close behind at 12 million acres. These areas are shown in cross-hatch in the map on the left.

Snow and rain in February and March also contributed greatly to re-wetting dry soil and beginning the processes leading to N loss.

In Missouri, more fall anhydrous ammonia was applied last fall than in any of the five previous years. This N has now been in the field for about 7 months. I would say that much of it has already been lost, or is in serious danger of being lost in coming weeks. N-Serve will not provide adequate protection to many of these fields.

I am also guessing that more N has been lost from well-drained soils than from poorly-drained soils to date. This is, if I’m correct (and I’m far from sure that I am), unusual. I’ve seen many more acres of yellow corn in areas with poorly-drained soils than in areas with well-drained soils over the years. But this year’s heaviest rains were in April, when well-drained soils are vulnerable to loss and poorly-drained soils are less vulnerable.


I believe that every farmer who applied all of their N before planting should have a plan for how they will apply more N fertilizer to the growing corn crop if it appears to need it. Further, every fertilizer retailer should have a plan for how they will help customers apply N to their growing corn. Tractor-drawn injection equipment, tractor-drawn dry N buggies, sprayers equipped with drop nozzles, high-clearance self-propelled spinners, airplanes....all are excellent options for how to apply more N if needed. Now is the time to develop a plan for how to apply more N, if you don’t already have one. Developing a backup plan as well would be even better. Fertilizer source should be planned and verified along with application equipment.

You may not need this plan. But if you don’t have one, your odds of getting more N applied if you need it are greatly reduced.


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