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Getting the rescue nitrogen on corn, no matter what

In show business, the mantra is: “the show must go on.” In cornfields, it’s “the nitrogen must go on, no matter what.” Hopefully, you’ve already applied the amount of N you feel comfortable with this year. But in case weather threw in a monkey wrench, especially on late-planted corn, there are solutions.

Key Points

• Truck tires on anhydrous wagons raise the frame and provide extra clearance.

• Rogator allows you to spread urea or ESN (slow-release urea) over tall corn.

• Early-season and sidedress applications are still preferred when possible.


Bill Fuller, Crop Production Services, Worthington, did whatever it took a year ago to help customers in emergency situations get N on their crop. Last season featured not only a wet May like this one, but also a wet April. So most corn was planted late. When wet weather at the normal sidedress time threatened to keep customers from getting nitrogen on, Fuller went above and beyond to provide options so they could still get N applied. What he learned may come in handy again this year, or in future years.

Reconfigure applicators

The first thing Fuller did a year ago was reconfigure some of the applicators not designed for row application so they could be used in row-crop situations. That gave them more applicators to keep running in the field.

“We also switched tires out on several tanks and went with truck tires,” he explains. “They’re taller, and they actually allow the tank to roll better. We did it because we picked up to 9 inches extra clearance, so the wagons could go through taller corn without causing problems.”

Fuller left the converted applicators in row-crop format after last season. He also left larger tires on the anhydrous wagons that were converted.

Rescue measures

Not even those adjustments solve how to get nitrogen on 3- to 4-foot-tall corn. Fuller rented a Rogator with a spreader box a year ago so farmers could apply N on corn up to 4 feet tall. They applied both urea and ESN. The ESN is a slow-release urea compound that helps reduce nitrogen losses.

“We double-spread most fields to ensure that we applied enough N across each field,” Fuller relates.

Another option is to dribble on liquid N from a high-clearance machine over very tall corn. But splashing N back on leaves and causing burn can be an issue.

Emergency situation

Kerry Graves, Bloomfield, used the Rogator to spread ESN and urea on a couple hundred acres in 2009. “It was more expensive than our normal program, but it certainly was better than not getting nitrogen applied,” he says. “We still harvested a good corn crop.”

Fuller agrees that these are emergency measures. His goal is not to dribble on extra N in tall corn just to get a few more pounds out there to up yield. Instead, his intent is getting nitrogen on corn when weather prevents an earlier application.

It’s still best to get N on earlier when corn plants are making decisions about ear size, he notes. That happens fairly early in a corn plant’s development.

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Gain clearance: Putting bigger tires on anhydrous wagons buys more time for applying anhydrous, Bill Fuller says.

This article published in the July, 2010 edition of INDIANA PRAIRIE FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.