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

Billing Farms, an Enderlin, N.D., strip-till operation of 1,600 corn acres, recently implemented the “2-by-2-by-2” nitrogen (N) application method several seasons ago, which consists of placing UAN 28% fertilizer, while seeding, 2 inches away from the seed on each side of the furrow at a 2-inch depth, while also implementing 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 planting unit so that the more powerful form of N can be applied at a safe, yet accessible, distance from the seed, says strip-tiller Paul Billing.

The third in-furrow input of 6-24-6 elemental zinc, gives the emerging plant a boost until it can access the UAN 28%.

“We have a large amount of our 28% N alongside the row. In strip underneath, we have our P, K and some ammonium sulfate applied back in the fall,” Billing says. “It’s the full gamut of fertilizer encompassing the corn seed, placing it wherever it needs to go.”

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 Rotenberger says. “You can just load up your seed and fertilizer and away you go.”

Steve Rotenberger adds how 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 you want to mud the corn in just to try and get it in early? Or are you going to be stuck planting corn on the first of June, knowing you’re going to have wet corn during fall harvest?” he asks.  

As planting season comes into full swing, what approach do you take with fertilizer application and what are you looking to adapt or modify?