Top 2 Questions About N Plans

June 19, 2018 11:53 AM

The ROI of nitrogen (N) is significant—an extra 20 lb. costs less than 2 bu. of corn. That doesn’t mean you throw on some extra N and hope for the best.

Maximizing the value comes down to the when and where of N applications. Multiple applications help weatherproof
the system and limit N lost to the environment.

N has a big job. On the front end, it pays the carbon penalty and helps break down residue, feed the microbes and reduce the effects of immobilization. Keeping young plants fed with banded N close to the plant is important for early uptake and growth. This can be accomplished with the corn planter or strip-till bar. A portion of total applied N should be held to sidedress, improve ear tip fill and kernel depth.

With so much riding on N, the Farm Journal Test Plots program, under the leadership of agronomists Ken Ferrie and Missy Bauer, continues to study timing, placement and delivery. The following questions are two of the most popular Ferrie and Bauer receive from farmers.

Question: Is precision N placement, such as 360 Y-Drop, advantageous to meet a corn crop’s needs?

Answer: Based on three years of research, sidedressing with Y-Drop at V3 to V6 yielded similar to a traditional coulter cart both in central Illinois and southern Michigan. To figure ROI, don’t forget to factor in the cost of a N stabilizer and equipment maintenance.

At V8 to V11, the Y-Drop yielded better than normal drops. In 2015, an N thirsty year, using Y-Drop resulted in 10 bu. per acre more. In 2016 and 2017, N friendly years, the yield benefit was less than 2 bu.

“Y-Drop isn’t necessarily the answer for nitrogen applications from emergence up to V7,” Ferrie says. “The precision is for a farmer who is a student of timing and placement. The ability to precisely place nitrogen and make an extra pass later in the season gives a farmer options. It’s all about efficiencies, which can’t be realized if a farmer doesn’t plan out the marathon so each of his applications hands off to the next one before corn is in trouble.”

V8 to V13: Demand for N is High


Question: Should post-emergence N be applied in one pass or split between a couple of applications?

Answer: A two-pass N program that included V3 to V5 sidedressing followed by a pass at V8 to V13 with Y-Drops increased yields from 0 bu. to 10 bu. per acre compared with the single pass. The three-year average, from 2015 through 2017, increased yields 4.24 bu. per acre with a ROI of $9.48 per acre, compared with the single pass made on lighter soils in southern Michigan, Bauer says.

“Say a farmer is putting on enough N upfront via a corn planter, strip-till or broadcast to get the corn to waist high. He then comes in with a coulter to apply the remainder of his N. If he were to compare that pass with a Y-Drop application, he probably wouldn’t see much of a difference because that N is not his limiting factor. His current N program is meeting his crop’s needs. Whether he improves his efficiency 10% to 15% doesn’t matter because his corn doesn’t need it.” Ferrie explains. “Now, if he improves his efficiency and reduces rates while maintaining yield, that’s a different story.”

If your corn falls apart in August, it doesn’t have enough N staying power. In that case, Ferrie advises splitting N and carrying it to the back end, which is what Bauer has done in Michigan because the soils there hold less N than Illinois soils.

“Thirty pounds of N put on with the corn planter has the horsepower of 60 lb. when it comes to helping with early season immobilization issues,” Ferrie says. “That doesn’t mean you can cut 30 lb., but in the overall picture keep that in mind. It all goes back to timing and placement.”

Ferrie and Bauer recommend evaluating your N timing and placement and adjusting as needed to weatherproof your program and limit N lost to the environment.

Know When Corn Needs N


To learn more about placing N in the middle of the row versus next to the plant, visit

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Spell Check

Forreston, IL
6/20/2018 12:26 PM

  When writing it is common practice to use the full words of an abbreviation the first time it is used and then to use the abbreviation from that point on. Some people that read your article may not be familiar with your subject and need to know what the letters ROI stand for in your article.


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