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Research Fertilizer Options for Your Farm

November 1 is just around the corner-the beginning of when fall fertilizing occurs in this area of the State.  Hopefully many of you have taken soil samples as excess nitrate is to be expected after this drought year.  This is an excellent time to consider evaluating your nitrogen program by starting an on-farm research trial!

On-farm research is using your own equipment, in your own fields, over single or multiple growing seasons allowing you to determine the most economical, efficient, and sustainable practice for the production of irrigated and/or dryland crops on your own farm.

What are the soil fertility questions you have for your farm?

Right now, with fertilizing on producers’ minds, we’re hoping you will consider a soil fertility study.  We have several example nutrient protocols including the UNL N fertility rate compared to +/- 30 lbs, and considerations for nitrogen timing studies such as pre-plant, sidedress, or fertigation.  You can view all these plot designs by clicking on 2012 protocols.  If you are planning on applying anhydrous this fall, be sure that the anhydrous strips are the correct width, as the corn must be harvested and weight determined in a correct manner next fall.

When designing a nitrogen comparison you need to remember nitrogen is a mobile nutrient and corn roots will spread laterally. Therefore, the width of the treatments must take this into account and compensate for it. If you have a 16 row nitrogen applicator and an 8 row corn head, you will need 32 rows of each nitrogen rate. Each 32 row strip must be repeated 4 times. At harvest, in each 32 row block, you must record and weigh the center 16 rows with two separate weights i.e. 8+8 . This is done for statistical analysis purposes. Without statistics, you cannot determine if differences between treatments is the result of the nitrogen rate or because of soil variability.

What’s in It for You?

On-farm research in your own fields allows you to find answers to the questions you may have.  We all read articles or hear presentations about various practices and products.  The question is “Will it work on my farm?“.  That’s what on-farm research allows you to find out!

UNL Extension Educators and Specialists are here to help you design your on-farm research trials, help you with data collection, and will statistically analyze the data for you at the end of the season.  Correct plot setup is critical to reduce any error in favoring one treatment over another (because we know fields are variable and some portions of the field will yield better than others).  The statistical analysis is another tool which helps us determine how much any yield differences between treatments are due to the treatments themselves or to chance.

So if you have an idea you’d like to try, please contact any of the UNL Extension Educators or Specialists working with on-farm research!  The Nebraska On-farm Research Effort is a partnership between the Nebraska Corn Board, Nebraska Corn Growers Association, and UNL Extension.

On-farm research may sound daunting, but today’s equipment makes it easier than ever.  It does take a little extra time, but our farmers conducting on-farm research feel the value of knowing the results of a study on their own piece of ground make the effort worthwhile.

What are some on-farm research studies you would like to conduct this year or that you would like our group to consider?

Fall Fertilizing Considerations

With the early harvest and potential product discounts, producers may be considering fall fertilization soon.  I can appreciate the reasons for it such as the product discounts, covering acres, and the fact that we don’t know what spring weather will bring in order to fertilize before planting.

At the same time applying nitrogen when a growing crop is not present allows for nutrient loss and we continue to see nitrates in groundwater increase in some areas.  Check out the following Webcasts regarding research from UNL Soil Fertility Specialists as you consider nutrient application and the addition of nitrogen inhibitors.

Guidelines for Fall Fertilizing

If you do apply fertilizer in the fall, the Natural Resources District (NRD’s) have provided guidelines so please check specifically with them.  Both UBBNRD and LBNRD have said no fall fertilization before November 1st and recommend no fall fertilization when soil temperatures are above 50°F.  This is because the conversion of anhydrous ammonia is much slower once soil temperatures are consistently below 50°F.  Please see the CropWatch Soil Temperature page for a map of current soil temperatures.

LBNRD also recommends but doesn’t require a nitrogen inhibitor placed with the anhydrous in the fall.  No liquid or dry nitrogen fertilizer can be applied between November 1st and March 1st without receiving a fertilizer permit.  With the fertilizer permit, producers will be required to put a nitrogen inhibitor in with their dry or liquid fertilizer.

Two exemptions are provided in the spreading of manure, sewage, and other by-products conducted in compliance with state laws and regulations, and the applications of pre-plant starter nitrogen to fall seeded crops, such as wheat.

A few other considerations from UNL Soil Fertility Specialists:

  • Take soil samples as soil nitrates may be higher than normal this fall-particularly in dryland fields.
  • Dry soils are difficult to sample and may affect results. Soil organic matter and soil nitrate results should be fine, but some soil pH and potassium may be affected by the dry conditions.
  • Knife applications, including sealing of anhydrous ammonia injection tracks, also may be more difficult in dry soil conditions.
  • Monitor rain and snow infiltration between now and the next growing season and make fertilizer adjustments next spring if excessive rain may have caused leaching.

Additional Resources

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