From the Ground Up

Inspiring views on the evolution of soil and agriculture.

Can you Fall Band Nitrogen with a Seed Hawk Seeder?

Fall banding nitrogen vs. broadcast in areas where volume and concentration are a concern.

At the Farm Progress Show in Regina in June of this year I had several good conversations with our customers in the black soil zone who are starting to set and achieve yield goals in the 70-90bu range for canola and 100bu.+ for spring wheat etc. They are finding the nitrogen requirements are in excess of 130lb/ac. These high rates of fertilizer are not only a logistical issue- handling all that volume while seeding can be a challenge. There is also a concern over those high concentrations being so near to the seed. These issues are both legitimate concerns. In the 1990s when we designed and tested the Seed Hawk opener, 100lb /ac of N was always the high end and in the wet soils of no-till we have not had a concern about concentrations. Now with the wet years that some of us have had in the last while and higher yield potential of the new seed varieties available, many growers are pushing their nitrogen rates well above 100lb/ac.

In order to relieve some of the spring pressure we are seeing a resurgence of fall or spring broadcasting of nitrogen. I realize with all the new slow release products out there applying nitrogen on the surface is somewhat safer than it was in the 80s and 90s but I am still not convinced that this is the best solution. John Harapiak did some great work comparing broadcast and banded nitrogen. Please see some of his conclusions below:

(Harapiak & Flore 1986-90 – in “Impact of Macronutrients on crop responses and environmental sustainability on the Canadian Prairies”).

Relative rating was calculated as yield increase from selected N treatment, divided by yield increase from spring broadcast and incorporated N. Even in moist conditions where the new slow release nitrogen wouldn’t really make much difference they found a 31% advantage for fall banding.

I clearly remember my experience with my Dad. We broadcast fertilizer in the late fall in the early 70s when Dad started to continuous crop. It was always worrisome: how much would run off or leach by seeding time? We could never be sure so we even started spreading it on the snow?? I remember when banding started in the mid 1970s my Dad bought a Prasco Air seeder over one winter. We banded urea that spring, then went back and seeded. It was a dry spring, what a huge mistake! We opened up the soil, dried it out and then went back and did it again with the seeding pass. We had very poor germination that spring and the crop was a disaster.

Those things really burn in your mind forever-you learn from them, even if it is a lesson on what NOT to do! The next year we did our banding in the late Fall with narrow spikes, leaving lots of stubble to catch snow. In spring we seeded into nice moisture , harrow packed, and all went reasonably well from then on. With John Harapiak’s research confirming what our experience was on the farm, this practice became common until the advent of one pass seeding/fertilizing systems with side band or inter row band systems.

I realized at the Farm Progress Show that now farmers in the wetter areas have the perfect tools for fall banding. Take the seed knife off of your Seed Hawk, use RTK or SBR to band a good portion of your nitrogen, maybe even a bit of PK&S between last year’s stubble rows. Your SCT will make sure you don’t waste any on overlaps. You can seed in the spring a couple of inches to the side of that band so your crop gets it before the weeds do. You should still put a complete blend down the fertilizer knife to get that pop up effect. Enjoy a 30% more efficient use of your fall applied nitrogen that will more than pay for your fuel, tractor hours, and fertilizer knife wear.

I know a lot of growers in these same areas are using vertical tillage units to help with excess moisture so why not use a fertilizer knife pass to make that happen. The corn growers call this strip tillage where they create a blackened tilled strip exactly where they will plant corn the next spring. Many of them place some fertilizer while they are doing that in order to gain fertilizer efficiency.

I’d like to hear your thoughts, comments and questions. Tweet me at @PatrickBeaujot or @NOTILLville.



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