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A Pitch For Liquid Fertilizer

Why should farmers make the switch to liquid fertilizer? One farmer at a workshop in Westlock, Alta., remarked: “Anhydrous is still the cheapest source of nitrogen, and they deliver it to my field.” Why should he change his practices?

Growers got answers to this question and many more at a workshop hosted by Little Anchor Farms Ltd., of Westlock. The seed and fertilizer retailer opened a liquid fertilizer plant in the spring of 2009. They are the first to offer fertilizer in liquid form in the area and are excited to be able to offer farmers a new alternative in crop nutrition.

Guest speaker Martin Detillieux operates Cavalier Agrow in Meota, Sask. Cavalier Agrow sells liquid fertilizer at three plants: “I’m very passionate about the product. I really believe in it,” he says.

Detillieux is quick to point out the advantages of liquid fertilizer over dry. With dry fertilizer, it is difficult to get all the nutrients to every seed, he says, especially prills of phosphorus (P), which are spaced fairly far apart simply because there isn’t as much P in a blend. You just won’t get P prills to every seed. With liquid fertilizer you have a ribbon effect, where every seed gets the exact same blend all the time. Because liquid fertilizer blends instantly, adding micronutrients is ideal. Every drop of the blend has every nutrient in the same strength.

Only in liquid fertilizer can you get all three forms of nitrogen. Liquid N is UAN–urea, ammonium nitrogen and nitrate nitrogen. The three different forms release their nutrients at different times, so that the plant has some N available from the first moment on until maturity. Twenty five per cent is immediately available to the plant, he says, and urea takes the longest to break down, ensuring a balanced release of nutrients.

“The most efficient use of fertilizer is to place it as close to the seed as possible without causing damage,” is Detillieux’s mantra. He maintains that with liquid fertilizer it is possible to put more nutrition closer to the seed than with dry. Especially in areas with higher moisture, farmers using the one-pass system find it difficult to place the high amounts of fertilizer required for high yields at an optimal place without damaging the seed.

One-pass farmers also experience another distinct advantage from liquids: They can seed far more acres at a time before having to fill again, he says. By making the switch to liquid, the grower can free up his second aircart tank that is normally used for dry fertilizer, and use it for seed capacity. The liquid fertilizer is then pulled behind in a tank.

This was important for Tom McMillan of Pickardville, Alta., who took the plunge and put all his fertilizer on in liquid form in 2009. He wasn’t so concerned about the extra cost liquid fertilizer might bring him. Time is also money and he saved so much time not having to refill his tank so often that he is going to stay with liquid.

Liquid fertilizer is easy to store and handle. There aren’t any safety concerns as with anhydrous ammonia. You don’t have to worry about on farm storage. Like most liquid fertilizer plants, Little Anchor Farms will bring the product to your farm, and even supply a tank if you need one. Of course, larger farms will want their own tank.

There are no shovels needed, and no augers to corrode. The product is simply pumped from the plant’s tank to yours.

Unlike some liquid mixes, liquid fertilizer is stable. It can sit for a long time. As soon as it is sloshed by driving, it is mixed again. “You’re good for five days before having to worry about remixing,” says Detillieux.

LIQUID AS TOP-DRESSING

Some Westlock farmers are most interested in using liquid fertilizer as a top dressing. Richard Krikke has put down the full nitrogen (N) requirements as anhydrous ammonia in the fall of 2009. If weather conditions are favourable, he plans to try to top dress some wheat with 20 to 30 pounds of liquid N.

Unlike what most farmers thought, Detillieux stressed that liquid fertilizer is not a foliar feed. It is not sprayed on the leaf. “You want it in the dirt,” says Detellieux. The high concentrations of N in liquid form would burn the leaf.

Errin Tollefson manages a satellite station of Cavalier AGrow in Meadsted, Sask. She advised farmers to use Stream Jet nozzles tips that produce three solid streams. These will ensure the fertilizer rolls off any leaf area and hits the ground.

With dry conditions in the Westlock area, Little Anchor Farms Ltd, has seen a lot of interest from growers looking to put down a proportion of their N needs in spring and then wait for the rain. If the rain comes, the grower can then add N to the crop. If it stays dry, then the grower can save this input cost, as rain will be the limiting factor on yield, not nitrogen.

Tollefson said a crop could be rescued with top dressing, but felt “the most efficient use of fertilizer is to place it as close to the seed as possible without causing damage.” Later applications are often used to reach peak yields.

“You do need a rain afterwards, to incorporate (the fertilizer) into the soil,” says Detillieux. Ideal would be a half-inch rain on a thick thatch of crop or one tenth on black soil at least within the week.

Cavalier Agrow sells all their liquid fertilizer for top dressing with Agrotain to stabilize nutrients in case of late rainfalls. ATS-liquid sulphur, added to the nitrogen, is also known to stabilize the nutrients, but is not guaranteed to do so.

If moisture is adequate, canola can be top dressed with liquid N up to the six-true-leaf stage. Sulphur can be applied in liquid form up to 42 days after seeding. Liquid nitrogen can be used to top dress wheat up to the early flag stage, adding up to one percentage point of protein and a 10 per cent yield advantage.

Detilleiux says it is easy to make the switch to liquid fertilizer. He cites farmers who have turned their third tank on their air cart into a liquid fertilizer tank — which isn’t a problem if the tank is poly. Galvanized tanks are not suitable because of corrosion.

CONVERSION COSTS

Converting your operation to liquid fertilizer can be as simple and cost effective as follows:

48 Atom Jet CB15 openers for a 40-foot airseeder with 10-inch spacing: $6,700

Pressure kit with variable rate capability: $3,120

New liquid cart: $20,000 (Many farmers have novel ideas for using something older.)

Poly Honda Pump: $550

Tank and miscellaneous plumbing: $2,000

Grand total: $32,390

COST VERSUS YIELD RESULTS

“Are there better yields,” someone wants to know.

“We have never lost a yield challenge yet over anything,” Detilleiux says. He cites the price of extra passes — harrowing after anhydrous ammonia, for example — that you don’t have with a one-pass operation using liquids.

It can also save moisture. With liquid fertilizer farmers can use a narrower opener than with heavy uses of dry fertilizer.

“If you just want straight cheap product, liquid fertilizer isn’t the way to go,” says Jason Slupek from Little Anchor Farms. “But if you believe 95 pounds of nitrogen in liquid fertilizer placed one inch away from the seed can produce the same yield as 100 pounds of N in dry form three inches away, then it makes sense.”

Detillieux puts it differently: “I’d rather put the 100 pounds of N on (with liquid fertilizer) and get the crop you should have.”

Maybe Richard Krikke, a farmer from Westlock area, has it right: “It’s not the cost difference, it’s about the cost per bushel.” And that is different for every farmer and for every area. Each farmer has to look at his/ her own operation, use a sharp pencil and work out what will work on their farm. For some it will be liquid fertilizer.

Marianne Stamm is a freelance farm writer from Jarvie, Alta. Email her at [email protected]

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