Farmers’ shift away from fall application of nitrogen for crops such as corn and sorghum is being reflected in changing retail practices, says Farm Journal Field Agronomist Ken Ferrie. “In my area of central Illinois, I know two fertilizer plants that have completely dropped anhydrous ammonia,” he says. “Their sales had shifted to spring application of nitrogen solution. While ammonia can be applied in the spring, farmers found it took up too much of their time when they needed to concentrate on planting, compared to nitrogen solution that can be applied as they plant or with herbicides.”
Traditionally, farmers have applied nitrogen in the fall because they feared they could not get over all their acres in the spring, especially if rainy weather set in. But that, like the climate that now keeps soil warm later into the fall, has changed, Ferrie says.
“When you consider all the options now available—spring preplant, with the planter, high-clearance, late-season application—you don’t need to bottleneck all your nitrogen into one time period,” Ferrie continues. “Worries about getting all your nitrogen applied in the spring really don’t reflect reality anymore. When I see farmers transition a few fields away from fall application, most of them soon decide they can do the same thing on their entire farm.”
Price is not necessarily an obstacle to shifting away from fall application, Ferrie adds. “Some years, you can purchase liquid nitrogen fertilizer in the fall for application next spring cheaper than you can buy anhydrous ammonia for fall application,” Ferrie says. “Retailers can’t store large amounts of anhydrous ammonia; but they can buy nitrogen solution in large volume, store it in tanks and pass the savings on to their customers.”