What are N application options in a compressed spring?
If decisions are made to plant corn and then apply N sidedress, be certain to check that needed fertilizer products and application equipment will be available. Best options for sidedressing, in order from most to least preferable, are:
- injected anhydrous ammonia, UAN, or urea
- broadcast dry ammonium nitrate, ammonium sulfate, or urease inhibitor treated urea
- surface dribbling UAN solution
- broadcast UAN
- broadcast urea
Sidedress injection can begin immediately after planting if corn rows are visible or GPS guidance positioning equipment is used. Be careful so that soil moved during injection does not cover seeded rows or small corn plants. It is easiest to inject in the row middle and there is no advantage in attempting to place the band close to the row. Corn roots will reach the row middle at a small growth stage. Injected N can also be applied between every-other-row. That technique will provide equivalent response as when placed between every row. For many soils, when planting corn after soybean there can be adequate N in the root zone to meet the needs of small corn plants. For corn after corn, there is a greater chance that additional N is needed for early growth. Preplant or starter N can help meet those needs, and is especially important if sidedressing is delayed significantly or there will be a planned mid-to-late vegetative stage application in either rotation.
Broadcasting urea, ammonium sulfate, or ammonium nitrate across growing corn might cause some leaf spotting or edge browning where fertilizer granules fall into the corn whorl. The chancesof this happening increases with larger corn and higher application rate. As long as the fertilizer distribution is good and not concentrated over plants, the leaf damage should only be cosmetic.
Because UAN solution is comprised of one-half urea and one-half ammonium nitrate, it has less volatile loss concern than dry urea. A urease inhibitor with surface applied and non-incorporated urea and UAN will help reduce volatile loss. The rate of N applied, and hence the amount of potential N loss, has to be large enough to offset the inhibitor cost. Rainfall will eliminate volatile loss and is needed to move surface applied N into the root zone.
Broadcast application of UAN solution across growing corn has the potential to cause leaf burn and reduced early growth. Depending upon the severity of damage, reduced plant growth may be visible for several weeks after application. Research conducted in Minnesota indicated that when corn plants were at the V3 growth stage (vegetative leaf stage defined according to the uppermost leaf with a leaf collar visible – in this case three leaf collars visible), phytotoxic effects were worse at rates greater than 60 lb N/acre (rates applied were 0, 60, 90, and 120 lb N/acre), but damage was not permanent and did not adversely affect stand or yield. When plants were larger than the V3 stage, plant damage was worse and some yield depression occurred with the 120 lb N/acre rate. Many preemergence herbicides are applied using UAN as the carrier to minimize trips across fields. However, this strategy is only recommended prior to crop emergence. Almost all herbicides prohibit application in N solutions after corn has emerged. Check herbicide labels closely.
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