Nitrogen Fertilizers

Management of nitrogen (N) continues to receive scrutiny as it relates to economic and environmental impact. The pursuit of higher yields by growers balanced against protecting the nutrient from environmental loss requires growers to utilize many tools and technologies. The 4 R’s of Nutrient Stewardship outline a template of considerations for growers to employ in constructing a nitrogen management program. 

Traditionally, growers have employed practices such as delayed timing or split applications of N, nitrification or urease inhibitors, or slow release nitrogen. The turnover of organic N in the soil creates difficulty in estimating the appropriate N rate for any given field in any given year. This has led some farmers to use additional N to avoid deficiencies but this practice is expensive. Without our help, applying N at the correct rate (TPC – timing, placement, concentration) can be easier said than done!

Corn sprout coming out of the soil.

Ammonium/Nitrate/Liquid Nitrogen Solution (UAN)

We know that Urea Ammonium Nitrate solution (UAN), 32% N is the principal source of all supplemental nitrogen. It can be added to suspension fertilizers in the fall, applied early in the spring, used as an herbicide carrier or a weed and feed fertilizer prior to planting, or as a post-emergence application. 

Additionally, sulfur and potash can be added to a straight 32% nitrogen solution (the amount of nitrogen) to make various grades such as 20-0-4-2(S) in order to provide the grower with various amounts of additional sulfur and potassium. They can be applied 2×2 at planting, as a side-dress application, or through fertigation. When the uptake of plant nutrients has been reduced due to excessive moisture or compaction, side-dress application of analyses such as 20-04-4-2(S) makes the most sense.

Liquid Nitrogen (UAN Solution)

Flexible Application Methods
  • Pre-plant dribble band
  • Carrier for herbicides applied at pre-plant incorporation or pre-emerge.
  • Post-applied by using the side-dress toolbar, Y-drop surface band, fertigation.

Blending Nitrogen Solution with Products

  • Frequently blended with various crop protection herbicide products.
  • Frequently blended with Ammonium thiosulfate solution (ATS).
  • Occasionally blended with traditional liquid starter fertilizers at appropriate ratios.

Fall Nitrogen Fertilizer vs. Spring Nitrogen Fertilizer

It’s imperative for growers to manage N properly and carefully for several reasons.
  1. Nitrogen fertilizer is one of the most costly crop nutrients following seed
  2. It’s extremely important for ensuring top corn yields
  3. Excess N that doesn’t get taken up by the growing corn crop can lead to environmental concerns

This conversation links directly in with the 4 R’s of Nutrient Stewardship and their many benefits to your crops.

Crop Benefits & The 4 R’s of Nutrient Stewardship​

The 4 R’s – Right Source, Right Time, Right Rate, and Right Placement – are important to maximize your crop benefits. Since applying fertilizer can have different effects on different crops at different times, it’s important to know the difference!

Right Source

Each crop needs a unique fertilizer type, it is important to match the source.

Right Time

The timing is critical, which crop are you using and when should it be fertilized?

Right Rate

The amount of fertilizer applied to your crops will be important to ensure the best crop growth while reducing product waste.

Right Place

The right placement of fertilizer will ensure your crop gets the most out of the applied product.

Why should farmers be concerned with the 4 R’s?

  1. They ensure a good return on your fertilizer and manure investments due to the high nutrient use efficiency
  2. If a lot of fertilizer nutrients are making it into the plant, that means those nutrients are not making it to unintended places, which means less environmental harm

Practices to keep nutrients from loss and tie-up:

  1. Cover crops
  2. Sub-surface placement of nitrogen fertilizer
  3. Edge-field strategies (e.g. buffer strips).
  4. Switch from fall to spring nitrogen sources
  5. Soil surface nitrate tests
  6. Side spaced nitrification inhibitors

Some of these practices will have a more immediate return on investment than others but they are all designed for ROI.

The goal of the 4R’s of Nutrient Stewardship is greater crop yields and higher nutrient use efficiency. Applying liquid nitrogen fertilizer for corn production in the spring vs the fall is a great example of the right time. Keeping an eye on your growing season and applying liquid form nitrogen fertilizer just prior to planting or in season will result in higher yields and nitrogen use efficiency (keeping nitrate in the crops or in the fields so and keeping it out of the atmosphere). Science-based studies conducted by the University of Illinois, Minnesota State University and Iowa State University show on anywhere from a 6 to 9.7% yield increase for spring vs fall nitrogen applications. These studies clearly show that spring-applied nitrogen is the most economical decision for Midwestern corn farmers. In some cases, growers might be able to increase their per acre profit by $43/ac when switching from fall to spring nitrogen sources. As you can see, the right source, time, rate, and place can make all the difference for your crops. Figuring out the best fertilizer for your crop’s needs depends on how it is to be used as it can have different effects for each. It’s important to understand the differences and needs for each crop and fertilizer type to get the best fertilizer for each field. And that goes for liquid fertilizer, too! For more information, contact Frank or Del about our liquid fertilizer programs. We can help you continue to be a good nutrient steward for the healthy growth of the land you care for!
A blue tractor pulling a liquid fertilizer trailer.

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If you have any questions about fertilizer sales in Iowa or Minnesota, Del can help you out. Fill out the form below to send him a message.

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If you have any questions about fertilizer sales in Illinois or Wisconsin, Frank can help you out. Fill out the form below to send him a message.

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