So if my Nitrogen is gone; what now?

So if my Nitrogen is gone; what now? from Central Valley Ag on Vimeo.

by Keith Byerly

by Keith Byerly

There are many great mysteries that we are faced with on a daily basis. What is Stonehenge? Who is buried in Grants Tomb? Why is there always an odd sock in the laundry? I call them great mysteries because I will probably never know the answer to any of these questions in my lifetime. In addition to all of these great mysteries, this spring has brought us another one; where is my Nitrogen at right now?

Now I could go full on nerd here and start talking about the Nitrogen Cycle and stabilizers and all of those things. But the truth is, I would just be rehashing things that Mike Zwingman has covered in his Reach Out articles over the past few months. If you put all or most of your Nitrogen on last fall, and you have been “blessed” with these spring rains, some of that investment is no longer accessible. If you did have a bulk of your Nitrogen out, how much has been eliminated? AND what can you do about it?

So I am going to make an assumption right now. If you are still with me, I assume you think you have a need to add nitrogen to your field in the next few months to maximize your yield. So how do we go about this? First, we need to put a value on that Nitrogen need. Much easier said than done, and the truth of the matter is you should probably have a trusted advisor helping you with this decision. A lot of emotion is involved in this right now with Net Effective Stand Percentage, Estimated Nitrogen Loss, and so on. It’s easy to swing too far to the doom and gloom side, and easy to put on those rose-colored glasses. Time will help us clarify these decisions. So, from this point forward, I am going to presume that you and your FSA have done your due diligence to figure out your nitrogen need. So now what?

Your choices are down to about three options.

Option 1 – Fertigate all of your needed N.

  • This is somewhat labor intensive, but it will work if there is a need to apply water. Otherwise, we might waste $10 per trip on an application.

Option 2 – Urea

  • Another solid choice that is cost effective when it comes to the per unit cost of N. Problems here revolve around uniform broadcast once corn gets some height on it, or we continue to catch regular rains, and the corn gets too tall to get a buggy through.

Option 3 – Side Dress Liquid

  • In the past, that has meant a coulter machine or drops, either of which applied the product down the center of the row, away from the roots, especially early in the season. We were also at the mercy of having to have this done by V6, or the corn was too tall to get through.


Now we have Y-Drops from 360 Yield Center. This allows us to outfit a toolbar or a post machine to apply liquid in-season. The benefit of this system vs. others is that the Nitrogen is applied at the base of the corn stalk instead of in between the rows, giving us a quicker response from the plants. Another key benefit is that incorporation of the fertilizer becomes less of an issue because the fertilizer is at the base of the plant.  This is where the plant can funnel down moisture for incorporation, so it takes very little water to accomplish this job. If we are going on a post machine, it also opens up our window to get the application done. Instead applying N by V6, we realistically have until V10, or maybe even later depending on the machine.

Y-Drops give us a wider window to work with from the nitrogen application standpoint. As Mike talked about earlier this week, there are benefits to pushing the decision of how much to apply and the application itself back. This year especially, it may be worth making an investment in the system to protect your corn crops potential, or finding a service provider to apply your Nitrogen with the Y-Drop system.

I’m not going to say that this technology is for everybody. But I will say it’s a good solution to a problem facing many of us right now in 2016. Furthermore, as we continue to stare at the real likelihood of increased regulations and decreased Nitrogen rates in the future, it should be a good tool to add to the toolbox now and get many years of use out of. Your nitrogen may be a bit like Waldo this year in that it is hard for you and your Corn plants to find. That’s ok; we play the hand we are dealt. Let’s stack the deck in our favor right now.