Fertigation – Not for Everyone, but Essential for Irrigators

January 18, 2019

Fertigation, Essential for Irrigators from Central Valley Ag on Vimeo.

I'm fully aware that not every grower has an irrigation system. As I stand on my patio, overlooking several miles of countryside here in Knox County Nebraska, I can only see one pivot. Irrigation Systems are essential for some and desired by others. At times, they are cursed by those that have them and longed for by those that don’t. But when push comes to shove, they are an essential part of crop production in the Western Corn Belt, whether you have them or not. Why are they essential, even to operations that don’t have them you might ask? Because logistically they are (or should be) a key part in our application of Nitrogen whenever we are growing corn below them.

As we continue our conversation about Nitrogen applications, we need to reflect again on what started this conversation since it was several weeks ago. When government bodies step in and add regulations to our grain production process, we must adapt. As we look across many of our NRD’s we see regulations in place, or proposed, about the maximum amount of Nitrogen that we can put on at a time, or when we can put it on. In those NRD areas, that means we have to adapt and shift applications of Nitrogen to in-season. That can take place on our planter, or as an early side-dress application. In both of those cases, we have to add to our total cost of production because we are investing in planter attachments or passes across the field.

But for those that own a center pivot, you have an application system at your disposal already. Adding a fertigation pump to your operation is one of the cheapest ways on a per acre basis to feed your crops. Contrary to what many believe, running UAN through a pivot has no ill effects on your irrigation system. If it did, there would be thousands of systems rusting away out West. That is because our growers out in Antelope and Holt County in Nebraska have been using fertigation for well over 30 years. And when I say using it, I mean up to five times per year. That’s right; there are growers all across the Central and Western parts of Nebraska that apply 150 pounds of Nitrogen per year with their center pivots.

For those of you that don’t fertigate or irrigate, I know that this must sound exhausting. Constantly tending, monitoring, and managing is a lot of work. But for many west of Nebraska Highway 14, their CEC levels simply won’t allow them to apply more than 80 pounds at a time. That means three trips across the field per season to apply fertilizer, or using their irrigation seasons. But why up to five applications instead of one or two. Because the crop responds to it.

Much like when you get a shot from your doctor when you don’t feel well, you feel the effects in one or two days. Fertigation is a great shot for the plant, aided by nature. When we talked about Y-Drops on a coulter machine, we talked about placing our product right next to the crown roots. When we fertigate we are doing exactly the same thing. We use low volumes of water when fertigation. This means that instead of forcing water straight to the soil surface, most of it lands upon the plant, where the plant funnels it to the stalk, and down to the base where the crown roots are. The water that carries the product to the soil, incorporates it and makes it easy for the plant to use. So a good portion of our application is in the plant quickly and serves as a shot to boost the plant. Getting those shots multiple times per year helps keep the plant healthy and green, and helps drive Nitrogen efficiency.

And many people don’t know this, but CVA even sells a system where we can variable-rate apply Nitrogen with our center pivots or other irrigation systems. Systems like the GX20 from AgXcel offer radical changes in this type of technology. With their system, we can create a prescription that will maximize efficiency for you. It even provides reports fully detailing the results of what you prescribed and ensuring there is no waste of product.
At the end of the day, it is my opinion that if you have a center pivot, you should use it for fertilizer application. Research shows it drives yield, and if regulations and passes across the field for other equipment aren’t a convincing enough reason, that should be.

By Keith Byerly

Posted: 1/18/2019 11:55:54 AM by Kelli Reznicek | with 0 comments