When the Application Window Shrinks, Planning is the Best Fertilizer

May 9, 2013 05:40 AM


Growers I have spoken to are not overly concerned with the prospect of late plantings this year. USDA reported 12% of the corn crop was in last week, and these same growers doubted the accuracy of that figure, calling it, "too high". Given the chance, modern farmers can get a crop planted in a big hurry and that is part of what is mitigating their concerns.

However, there comes a point when a guy's got to make some decisions based on time. Last spring was an early plant year and there was plenty of time to apply spring nitrogen before seeding. But April 2013 slipped away in the Corn Belt with little crop progress and it seems that just as soils are about ready for tillage, fertilizer and seed, it rains.

Farmers are watching the application window shrink from behind rain-spattered barn windows, and eventually, the clock will run out, and seed will have to go into the soil. Should you find yourself out of time for pre-plant applications, or uncertain about how crops might be affected if anhydrous is applied too close to planting, agronomist John Sawyer from Iowa State University offers some tips.

The first is to wait for soil conditions to be right before planting. There have been some murmurs about mudding corn in, but that is a risky proposition as seed-to-soil contact can be less than ideal. The same is true with mudding in anhydrous as the knife-in may not close fully, opening the door to N loss to the atmosphere. Sawyer says, "fertilize first if it does not delay corn planting."

Secondly, get the crop in the ground with a plan in place to sidedress N after, when conditions are better. In most cases, when you book anhydrous in the fall, you own it. There was a time when inventories at retail outlets would support a late season switch, but the nature of the downstream supply at present has no room for that sort of exchange.

You may need to book some fresh product and hold that anhydrous till fall if you do not have the iron to support post-plant anhydrous applications. If that is the case, make sure you can get product for sidedress. Get a jump on this. Late season demand for 28% and 32% solutions may really pick up in the next few weeks and may continue into early summer.

Careful planning and deliberate forethought are the best fertilizers there are.

It is not yet time to panic, and conditions are coming around in many parts of the Midwest. But a contingency plan is never a bad idea, and if you find yourself out of time to apply fertilizer and get your crop in, err toward planting and apply nitrogen after the seed is in the ground. (click here for more from ISU)

 Photo credit: D. Michaelsen, Inputs Monitor

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