A split fertilizer application, particularly if you live with drier growing conditions, is a good way to manage risk and yield, say producers contacted for the May Grainews farmer panel.
It is not always a perfect solution, say some producers. The risk management part applies if conditions remain dry, in which case you may decide not to apply the top-up in crop or perhaps a reduced amount. That saves money. However, if you do decide to apply more fertilizer in the crop, the fertilizer application often overlaps with the ideal time to apply herbicides, so time management is a factor. Other risks: sometimes they do apply the fertilizer and the weather forecast for rain is wrong, and sometimes it may be raining when they should be out applying the fertilizer and field conditions are wet.
One important point to remember if you do consider a split-rate treatment is to apply at least enough nitrogen at time of seeding to carry the crop through poor growing conditions. Somewhere between 50 and 66 per cent of fertilizer — the amount needed for the target yield under average conditions — should be applied with the seed. Then if it does stay dry and you don’t top-up, you should be covered.
VERN KALICIAK BRACKEN, SAS K.
Saskatchewan farmer Vern Kaliciak says applying a split application of nitrogen in durum has helped him manage the risk of fertilizer costs, as well as helping to stabilize or increase protein.
Kaliciak, who farms with his father Tony and their respective families south of Swift Current, has been using split application rates for the past eight years. They farm a total of about 6,800 acres in a crop and fallow rotation. About 5,200 acres is in crop for three years while, about 1,600 acres is in chemfallow.
Kaliciak grows both durum and mustard, applying about 140 pounds of a granular 28-12-6-5 blend to durum at time of seeding. He will dribble band another 10 to 12 gallons of liquid nitrogen on the crop at the two to three leaf stage. The liquid application also includes about five pounds of sulphur as well as Agrotain. He now applies the liquid with his high clearance sprayer, but did use a ground sprayer at one time, too.
His granular fertilizer blends that goes on at seeding contains about 39 pounds of actual nitrogen, while the liquid application adds another 25 to 30 pounds of nitrogen to the crop.
“We feel it makes a difference in yield as well as in protein,” says Kaliciak, who works with local crop consultant Greg Lundsten of Hidden Valley Agra in Eastend. On stubble fields, durum yields average about 35 bushels per acre, while on their chemfallow land yields can be as high as 55 bushels.
“It would be nice if everything yielded around 55 bushels, but we’re pleased with 35 or 36 bushels on the stubble,” he says. “And it is helping us to be more consistent in achieving that No. 1 grade and higher protein. That extra bit of nitrogen helps to get rid of the piebald or starchy kernels.”
Nitrogen applied earlier in the growing season has more influence on yield, and later in the season — around the four-leaf stage — has more impact on protein. By applying the liquid product more towards the late side, he gets the benefit of improved yield, and also sees more consistent 13.5 per cent protein in the durum.
It hasn’t always worked, Kaliciak says. One year he applied the liquid, the forecast called for three inches of rain and they only got three tenths of an inch. “There just wasn’t enough moisture and it hurt the crop as well, and our yields that year were only 14 or 15 bushels,” he says. “But if you get the rain it does make a difference.”
This year he will try the split rate in mustard. He will apply about 75 pounds of the standard granular blend at seeding to reduce the risk of seedling injury. Then he will top up with liquid fertilizer in-crop.
CLAYTON OSINSKI EASTEND
Applying a split rate fertilizer application can be a pain in the butt, says southeast Saskatchewan farmer Clayton Osinski, although four or five times out of the past six years it has worked quite well.
The challenge is to fit the application in between herbicide application and weather, he says. The optimum time to apply liquid fertilizer falls just when they should be applying herbicides, and “sometimes you wait, wait, wait to apply it and then it rains and then you can’t get on the field, either,” he says. “Overall I think it works fairly well, but it isn’t always perfect either.”
Osinski, who farms with his father Richard and their respective families, grows durum, pulses and chickpeas in an area that is frequently dry. “If it is really dry here, you might as well just cut your losses and think about next year,” he says. “That’s what is appealing about the split rate. If you have poor growing conditions, you save that $20 worth of fertilizer and put it toward next year’s crop.”
Last year was a good example how well the split rate can work. On part of their durum acres, they applied the full rate of 150 pounds of a 27-13-44 granular blend (42 pounds of actual nitrogen) and that was it. On another 1,400 acres of durum, he applied 140 pounds of 23-14-11-4 (32 pounds of actual nitrogen) at time of seeding and between the two to four leaf crop stage he dribble banded 20 more pounds of actual nitrogen with a liquid 28-0-0. Total nitrogen for the two treatments was 52 pounds.
“It was an ideal situation because it started to rain just as we finished applying the liquid fertilizer,” he says. “Overall I’d say it made at least a 10 bushel per acre difference. In this area a decent yield most years is about 30 bushels per acre and on some of our durum last year it went as high at 50 bushels. On those fields where we applied the liquid fertilizer, it definitely paid for itself.”
Osinski says there have been a couple years in the last six years when he hasn’t applied the top-up nitrogen just because it was too dry.
GREG LUNDSTEN EASTEND, SASK.
Along with being a crop consultant Greg Lundsten also farms about 4,000 acres of grains, pulse crops and oilseeds with his parents in southwest Saskatchewan. While he has worked with a number of farmer clients who use split rate fertilizer applications, Lundsten also follows the practice on his farm, particularly in winter wheat and canola.
“Initially when we started doing it with winter wheat it was due to equipment limitations,” he says. “We had a single shoot seeding system and we couldn’t put all the nitrogen down with the seed. So we would top up in the spring. Now that we have a paired-row air seeding system, we have the capability to apply all fertilizer at time of seeding, but we use the split application more as a risk management tool.”
Lundsten, who operates Hidden Valley Agra, says last year for example, they put about 50 per cent of the winter wheat fertilizer requirement on at time of seeding (about 35 pounds of actual nitrogen) and this spring (at mid-April) they still had to decide how much nitrogen to apply this year.
“Conditions are a bit dry this spring, and although I think the crop over-wintered well, we still have to decide whether to apply that other 30 to 40 pounds of nitrogen,” he says. He was waiting for the soil to completely thaw out before making the final call. If conditions look favourable, he will dribble band all or a portion of the UAN 28-0-0 with some added sulphur before the crop begins to tiller.
Lundsten says the split rate application also works well in canola. He has in the past applied a granular nitrogen fertilizer to planned canola fields while there is still snow on the ground, just to get added nitrogen
and sulphur on ahead of seeding. With in-crop applications, he puts about 50 per cent of the recommended fertilizer rate on at time of seeding and then will top up with the other 50 per cent, a blend of liquid nitrogen and phosphorus, up to the start of flowering.
SCOTT ZIOLA MARGO, SASK.
A top-up application of sulphur fines has helped increase canola yields for Scott Ziola, who crops about 4,000 acres of grains and oilseeds east of Saskatoon. “The problem is that we can’t put enough sulphur on at seeding because it will burn the seed and seedlings,” says Ziola, who crops about 1,200 acres of canola. “So we can apply it before or after seeding depending on when we can get it done.”
Ziola’s nutrient program includes anhydrous ammonia banded at time of seeding with phosphate and potash placed with the seed. He then applies about 110 pounds of sulphur — 20-0-0-24 — to the crop in a window up to the flowering stage.
“Sulphur improves flowering, and with more flowers you have more pods and with more pods hopefully more yield,” he says. The 110 pounds of 20-0-0-24 contains about 26 pounds of actual sulphur. The sulphur fines are broadcast applied by a custom floater and require very little moisture — even just dew is enough — to carry it into the soil.
“Ideally it would be great to have it applied before seeding, but it is difficult to find a custom applicator at that time,” he says.
Along with the sulphur fines, Ziola also increased potash and phosphorus rates. The change in the nutrient program has increased yields from an average in the low 30 bushels per acre to now in the mid-40 bushels per acre. “I have actually increased the potash and phosphorus and decreased the amount of nitrogen to have a more balanced fertility program, and overall it has improved yields,” he says. To help with his nutrient plan, Ziola works with crop advisor Darwin Kells of Lampton Agra Strategies based in Elfros, Sask.
Lee Hart is a field editor for Grainews in Calgary, Contact him at 403-592-1964 or by email at [email protected]