While visiting with two different strip-till operations in central North Dakota this spring, a pressing topic ahead of planting season centered on the best program for liquid nitrogen (N) application, specifically in terms of accuracy and time savings.

Billing Farms, an Enderlin, N.D., strip-till operation of 1,600 corn acres, implemented the “2-by-2-by-2” N application method several seasons ago, which consists of applying UAN 28% fertilizer during planting, 2 inches from the seed on each side of the furrow at a 2-inch depth, while also applying starter fertilizer in-furrow at 3 gallons per acre.

The setup for 2-by-2-by-2 involves a fertilizer disc or coulter attached to the planter so that the more powerful form of N can be applied at a safe, yet accessible, distance from the seed, says Paul Billing. (Read more about Billing’s strip-till operation).

The third application of liquid phosphate (6-24-6) and elemental zinc, in-furrow, gives the emerging plant a boost until it can access the UAN 28%.

Rotenberger Farms in Lisbon, N.D., a nearby family-run strip-till operation with 1,400 acres of corn, currently applies most of its fertilizer when building berms in the fall. Yet Doug and Steve Rotenberger have strongly considered the “2-by-2” UAN 28% method themselves, noting how applying most, if not all of their N in the spring, can eliminate concerns of winter leaching and reduce the number of passes required in the field. 

“With applying N in the fall, you’re going to see leaching here and there, and that’s where it would probably benefit us just to place P, K and a very small amount of N in the fall. Then we can come back in the spring and just do it all in one pass,” Steve says. “You can just load up your seed and fertilizer and away you go.”

Steve adds that applying N in the fall could spark difficult decisions for spring planting dates, especially considering the pressure to maximize benefits of previously applied nutrients.

“If we’re having a wet spring like this year, and have all that money tied up in fertilizer, do we want to mud the corn in just to try and get it in early? Or are we going to be stuck planting corn on the first of June, knowing we’re going to have wet corn during fall harvest?” 

Spring fertilizer applications can be as much of an art form as a science, and trial-and-error often hones strip-tillers’ instincts for timing and tolerance for when and how much fertilizer to apply before or during planting. 

We hope that this Spring issue offers some insight into how farmers are managing seasonal nutrient applications along with some specific examples — Read 5 Early-Season Application Tips to Stretch & Strengthen Your Fertility Program — on maximizing the window of opportunity with early-season fertilizer applications. Here’s to a productive and profitable 2018 cropping year!