Fall fertilizer considerations in 2019

Source: Emerson Nafziger, Univ. of Illinois

While this article is written for Illinois many of the concepts apply in Ohio.

The high number of prevented-planting fields in some areas, the late start to harvest, and the inability to apply P and K fertilizer as planned last fall or this past spring combine to raise a number of questions about fall application of P, K, and lime over the next few months.

Prevented-planting fields

If P and K fertilizers were applied last fall or this past spring but no crop could be planted, there’s no reason not to count all of the applied P and K as available for the 2020 crop. The same goes for any lime applied over the past 12 months. Any nitrogen (N) that was applied with MAP or DAP is likely no longer available, and shouldn’t be counted in the 2020 supply.

If the plan was to sample soil last fall or this spring to determine how much P, K, and lime to apply but that didn’t get done, these fields can be sampled now in preparation for fall or spring application. If the plan was to sample after the 2020 crop, there’s no reason to move that up to this fall; these nutrients didn’t (and won’t) go anywhere. By the same token, there’s no reason not to apply after two years based on estimated removal using the same P and K rates set to be applied a year ago. Unless a cover crop has been or will be harvested from a prevented-planting field this fall, removal will be zero.

Our most recent numbers to use for estimating P and K removal (see my Bulletin article with details) are 0.37 (.35 in Ohio) lb P2O5 and 0.24 (.20 in Ohio) lb K2O per bushel of corn and 0.75 (.79 in Ohio) lb P2O5 and 1.17 (1.14 in Ohio) lb K2O per bushel of soybean.

 

We mentioned last spring the concern about the “fallow syndrome” that’s been associated with having no crop in a field for an entire growing season. This problem, which appears as a phosphorus deficiency, has been more commonly seen in fields or parts of fields where water has stood for much of the season; it was reported in the Mississippi River bottomlands in 1994 following the flood of 1993, when water stood on parts of fields through much of the summer. If weeds or cover crops grew on prevented-planting fields for most of this summer, especially in August and September, the crop-friendly fungi (VA mycorrhizae, or VAM) that prevent this problem likely are still present, and there’s no cause for concern.

In low-lying spots where water stood into mid-summer, and in fields kept weed-free through the summer by tillage or herbicide, we can’t rule out a possible problem due to loss of VAM. There are commercial preparations of VAM that can be applied in-furrow to inoculate corn next spring. In most cases, it will be enough to make sure there’s adequate P close the seed so the crop can take it up as growth begin, after which VAM will start to regrow in the roots of the new crop. Growing a cover crop this fall will restart VAM growth this fall, and should rule out the need for any additional steps next spring.

A year without a crop is used deliberately in some dry regions to store water for the next crop, but is a novelty for most Illinois fields. So we don’t have much research to help predict what this might mean for the next crop: is “fallow” in 2019 more like soybean or more like corn in its effect on the 2020 crop? We think the answer is “neither” – that 2019 will instead be an “amnesty” year, in which any effects of the 2018 crop got canceled or at least minimized, leaving open the choice of crop in 2020. Wheat planted this fall can be expected to do well on fields where neither corn nor soybean grew in 2019, as long as we get rid of plants that can serve as a reservoir of insect-vectored diseases (see Nathan Kleczewski’s Bulletin article on this), take care not to plant too early, and provide enough P for the crop.

The extent to which weeds or cover crops grew and matured might influence how having no crop this year might affect next year’s crop. Any addition to the weed seed supply could complicate weed control going forward. Large quantities of mature (high-carbon, low nitrogen) residue produced this year may act much like corn crop residue, increasing the N requirement for a 2020 corn crop. Because weed or cover crop growth requires soil water, there may be a little less stored soil water next spring in fields where there was a lot of growth this year. But most fields that didn’t grow a crop this year are likely to have more water stored in the soil now, and should also have more mineralized N, both because less N was taken up by a crop, and because there is less residue whose breakdown ties up N. These increases may well diminish by next spring, but they still might be helpful to next year’s crop, whether that’s corn or soybean. In using the N rate calculator to set corn N rates in fields with no crop and minimal weed or cover crop growth this year, I suggest choosing soybean as the previous crop; in fact, with no removal of mineralized N from the soil by soybean this year, it might be appropriate to also set N rates for next year’s corn crop a little lower (within the MRTN range) than usual. In fields with a lot of residue present now, it might be more appropriate to select “corn” as the previous crop when using the calculator.

Fields with a crop in 2019

If neither soil sampling nor P and K application could be done as planned for the 2019 crop, the yield-based estimate of nutrient removal by this year’s crop can be added to the estimate of removal by crops grown since the last application. The urgency of the need to apply “catch-up” P and K depends on soil test levels the last time the field was sampled: if P and K levels are already high, there’s less concern about yield loss even if 2019 ends up being a “skipped” year of replacement. Yields in some fields will also not be as high in 2019 as they were in 2018, meaning less nutrient removal. But any of the immobile nutrients like P and K that were removed with harvest of any crop will need to be replaced at some point if soil test levels are to be maintained.

Other than less nutrient uptake in fields where yields are lower than expected this season, soil sampling and nutrient management can continue as usual in fields where a crop was grown this year. In the drier parts of Illinois, late-planted crops took up water (and matured or will mature) later than normal, although the total amount of water taken up is less where yields are lower. Where it’s dry enough to make it difficult to get a soil probe to the proper depth, we can expect soil samples to show more variability than usual, especially in K test levels. This is due both to variable depth of samples and to the effect of dry soils on K extractability. Samples taken from dry soils often show lower than expect soil test K levels because K cations get trapped in clay lattices. Test levels of pH and P are less affected than the K test by soil moisture before and during sampling. Dry soils are rare in the spring, and so soil test levels, especially of K, are more consistent when measured on samples taken in the spring.

Fertilizer application

Soils are currently dry enough to allow application of dry fertilizer materials over much of Illinois; the wettest part of the state is northwestern Illinois, where the crop still has to mature. Harvest started slowly in Illinois, but with the warm weather this week, it will accelerate quickly as long as it stays dry. The development of wet conditions could slow both harvest and fertilizer application that follows harvest, but soils in the drier parts of Illinois can take in an inch or two of rainfall without turning muddy or forcing much delay. Most people are anxious to start applying fertilizer after the delays and frustration in getting this done over the past year.

There has been a considerable amount of discussion about whether or not placing P fertilizer beneath the soil surface is a sound practice. The main reason for doing this is to keep the P in MAP or DAP, which is highly soluble, from dissolving and running down slopes and into streams in the event of heavy rain. How much of this might occur is affected by slope, permeability of the surface soil, how dry the soil is, how much crop residue is present, and the intensity of rainfall. Soils following soybean harvest are generally more permeable than following corn harvest, but corn leaves more residue. Tillage increases surface permeability, but also loosens soil to make it move more readily with runoff water. Drier soils can take in more water before runoff begins than can wet soils.

October and November are drier months, on average, than spring months, crops growing into the fall extract a significant amount of water from the soil thus leaving it drier, and high-intensity rainfall events are less likely in the fall. So overall, chances of getting high-loss conditions are lower in the fall than in the spring, but they aren’t zero. Surface-applied P will move into the soil under normal weather conditions, and will end up safe from direct loss (it can still move if soil runs off the field) by December. Most research has shown no yield benefit to subsurface P and K placement in the fall, and it is not clear that the added cost of subsurface placement will provide a positive return in most years and on most fields. In strip-till systems, however, where subsurface placement doesn’t add to the amount of surface soil disturbance, applying P and K beneath the strip while strip-tilling in the fall may be a cost-effective way to apply these nutrients.

Although we’ve found that the N in DAP tends to be available to the next year’s crop if DAP is applied after soils cool down to 50 degrees, applying MAP or DAP when soils are warm will allow much of the ammonium from these materials to convert to nitrate in the fall; once it’s nitrate it can move down with water into and through the soil, including to tile lines if there’s a lot of rainfall. Even if the N doesn’t move too far down in the soil in the fall before the soil freezes, it will have a head start when water begins to move through the soil in the spring. There can also be direct movement of ammonium (along with P) in surface runoff during heavy rainfall before the MAP or DAP has had a chance to dissolve and move into the soil.

While it may not be practical to hold off on applying MAP or DAP until soil temperatures fall to below 50 degrees, we should recognize that even though the amount of N in these fertilizers is relatively small, it can add appreciably to the N that moves to surface waters through drainage tile. One solution that has been suggested is to switch from using MAP/DAP as the P source to using triple-super-phosphate (TSP, 0-46-0) which contains no N. If TSP is available at about the same cost per pound of P as MAP or DAP, it would be a good source to use, especially for applications made before mid-October. The “free” N that comes with MAP or DAP is more likely to reach tile lines than the roots of next year’s corn crop if it’s applied when soils are warm in the fall. If it’s applied after soil temperatures reach 50 degrees or if it’s applied next spring, the N in MAP or DAP does contribute to the N supply for next year’s crop.

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It’s that time of year … Don’t forget to calibrate your yield monitor!

Remember the old adage … Garbage in = Garbage out. Many of us use our yield data to make additional management decisions on our farms such as hybrid or variety selection, fertilizer applications, marketing, etc. Data from an uncalibrated yield monitor can haunt us for many years by leading us into improper decisions with lasting financial affects. In today’s Ag economy we can ill afford any decision with adverse financial implications.

The two biggest reasons I usually hear for not calibrating a yield monitor are 1) I just don’t have time to do it or 2) I can’t remember how to do it without getting my manual out.  While I know it’s easy to criticize from “the cheap seats”, I would argue that this could be some of the most important time you spend in your farming operation each year.  Like many other tasks on our farm, the more we do it, the easier it gets.  Yield monitor data has so much value!  This data provides a summary (in term of yield) of every single decision you made on your farm during the past year.

Below is a calibration checklist created by Dr. John Fulton and Dr. Elizabeth Hawkins.

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Poultry Litter Applications

Source: Glen Arnold, OSU Extension

Stockpiles of poultry litter can be seen in farm fields across Ohio. While common each year in wheat stubble fields, there are also stockpiles showing up in preventative plant fields.

Poultry litter is an excellent source of plant nutrients and readily available in most parts of the state.  Poultry litter can be from laying hens, pullets, broilers, finished turkeys, turkey hens, or poults. Most of the poultry litter in the state comes from laying hens and turkey finishers. Typical nutrient ranges in poultry litter can be from 45 to 57 pounds of nitrogen, 45 to 70 pounds of P2O5, and 45 to 55 pounds of K2O per ton. The typical application rate is two tons per acre which fits nicely with the P2O5 needs of a two-year corn/soybean rotation.

Like all manures, the moisture content of the poultry litter greatly influences the amount of nutrients per ton. Handlers of poultry litter have manure analysis sheets indicating the nutrient content.

Poultry manure for permitted operations needs to follow the Natural Resource Conservation Service 590 standards when being stockpiled prior to spreading. These include:

– 500 feet from neighbors

– 300 feet from streams, grassed waterways, wells, ponds, or tile inlets

– not on occasionally or frequently flooded soils

– stored for not more than eight months

– not located on slopes greater than six percent

– located on soils that are deep to bedrock (greater than 40 inches to bedrock)

Farmers who want to apply the poultry litter delivered to their fields are required by Ohio law to have a fertilizer license, Certified Livestock Manager certificate, or be a Certified Crop Advisor. Check with your local Soil and Water Conservation District for proper setbacks from steams, ditches and wells when applying poultry litter.

What is the Nutrient Value of Wheat Straw?

Laura Lindsey, Ed Lentz, OSU Extension

Wheat harvest is now underway. What is the nutrient value of the straw? The nutrient value of wheat straw is influenced by several factors including weather, variety, and cultural practices. Thus, the most accurate values require sending a sample of the straw to an analytical laboratory. However, “book values” can be used to estimate the nutrient values of wheat straw. In previous newsletters, we reported that typically a ton of wheat straw would provide approximately 11 pounds of N, 3 pounds of P2O5, and 20 pounds of K2O.

The nitrogen in wheat straw will not immediately be available for plant uptake. The nitrogen will need to be converted by microorganisms to ammonium and nitrate (a process called “mineralization”). Once the nitrogen is in the ammonium and/or nitrate form, it is available for plant uptake. The rate of which mineralization occurs depends on the amount of carbon and nitrogen in the straw (C:N ratio).  The USDA reports a C:N ratio of 80:1 for wheat straw which means there are 80 units of carbon for every unit of nitrogen. Mineralization rapidly occurs when the C:N ratio is ≤ 20:1. At a C:N ratio of 80:1, mineralization will be much slower. (For comparison, corn stover is reported to have a C:N ratio of 57:1.) Rate of mineralization is also influenced by soil moisture and temperature. Since mineralization is a microbial-driven process, mineralization will be slowed (halted) in the winter when temperatures are cold. Thus, no N credit is given for wheat straw since it is not known when the N will mineralize and become available to the following crop.

Besides providing nutrients, straw has value as organic matter, but it is difficult to determine the dollar value for it. Removal of straw does lower soil potash levels. If straw was removed after heavy rainfall, some of the potash may have leached out of the straw, lowering the nutrient value of the straw. However, a soil test should be done to accurately estimate nutrient availability for future crops.

Corn of Many Colors

Source: Alexander Lindsey, Steve Culman, Peter Thomison, OSU Extension

As corn is emerging and beginning to grow, we are again seeing many colors present. In any given field, corn can appear dark green in sections, while other sections are yellow and occasionally purple. Yellowing (due to low nitrogen or sulfur uptake and/or limited chlorophyll synthesis) or purpling (reduced root development and/or increased anthocyanin production) of corn plants at this stage of development generally has little or no effect on later crop performance or yield potential. If it’s induced by environmental conditions, the yellow or purple appearance should change to a healthy green after a few sunny days with temperatures above 70 degrees F (and as soils dry). If plants remain yellow then closer inspection and assessment is needed to determine if the yellowing is caused by nutrient deficiency or some other factor. Cooler wet conditions often increase the appearance of these different colors. Some hybrids are more likely to increase anthocyanin (purple pigment) content when plants are cool.

 

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Ponding and Saturated Soils: Results of Recent Ohio Corn Research

Source: Alexander Lindsey, Peter Thomison

Persistent rains during May and early June have resulted in ponding and saturated soils in many Ohio corn fields and led to questions concerning what impact these conditions will have on corn performance.

The extent to which ponding injures corn is determined by several factors including (1) plant stage of development when ponding occurs, (2) duration of ponding and (3) air/soil temperatures. Corn is affected most by flooding at the early stages of growth (see https://agcrops.osu.edu/newsletter/corn-newsletter/2018-15/young-corn-wet-feet-what-can-we-expect). Under certain conditions, saturated soils can result in yield losses. Saturated soil conditions can result in losses of nitrogen through denitrification and leaching. Additionally, root uptake of nutrients may be seriously reduced even if plants are not killed outright by the oxygen deficiency and the carbon dioxide toxicity that result from saturated soil conditions. Root growth and plant respiration slow down while root permeability to water and nutrient uptake decreases. Impaired nutrient uptake may result in deficiencies of nitrogen and other nutrients during the grain filling stage. Once the corn has reached the late vegetative stages, saturated soil conditions will usually not cause significant damage. Moreover, moderate temperatures should help minimize the level of stress.

Although standing water is evident in fields with compacted areas, ponding has usually been of limited duration (i.e. the water has drained off quickly within a few hours). In Ohio in 2017-2018, we observed a 10% yield loss when corn was flooded at V4 for 2 days and received 120 lbs N pre-plant + 60 lbs N sidedress (applied post-flood). When flooded for 4 or 6 days, yield loss increased to 15 and 33%, respectively, when receiving the same N regime. If the additional 60 lbs N was not side-dressed post-flood, yield losses increased to 30, 50, or 57% for 2, 4, or 6 days of flooding, respectively. According to Dr. Emerson Nafziger at the University of Illinois (http://bulletin.ipm.illinois.edu/?p=1240) “…At the time the crop reaches stage V13 (about head-high), it still has to take up 110 to 120 lb of N, and in years when June is wet, a common question is whether or not the crop might run out of nitrogen, leaving the crop short. While the need for 20 or more lb of N per week would seem to raise the possibility of a shortage, the production of plant-available N from soil organic matter through the process of mineralization is also at its maximum rate in mid-season. For a crop with a good root system growing in a soil with 3 percent organic matter, mineralization at mid-season likely provides at least half the N needed by the crop on a daily basis. This means that normal amounts of fertilizer N, even if there has been some loss, should be adequate to supply the crop.”

If the rain has been paired with strong winds, root lodging may occur. Yield losses of 4, 10, and 15-25% have been reported for 100% root lodging at V10, V13-15, and V17-R1, respectively in Wisconsin. Results from Ohio in 2018 suggest these values may be greater than previously reported (8, 37, and 58% yield loss when root-lodged at V10, V13-14, and VT-R1, respectively).  This trial will be repeated in 2019 in Ohio.

Disease problems that become greater risks due to ponding and cool temperatures include Pythium, corn smut, and crazy top. Fungicide seed treatments will help reduce stand loss, but the duration of protection is limited to about two weeks. The fungus that causes crazy top depends on saturated soil conditions to infect corn seedlings. There is limited hybrid resistance to these diseases and predicting damage from corn smut and crazy top is difficult until later in the growing season. However, the economic impact of these latter two diseases is usually negligible.

Spring Herbicide Applications on Winter Wheat – Part 2 Labeled Herbicides

Source: Purdue University (Edited)

If weed infestations are severe enough to require a herbicide application, the use of liquid nitrogen fertilizer solution as a carrier is a popular option for applying herbicides and topdressing the wheat crop in a single pass over the field.  Caution should be taken when using a liquid fertilizer as a herbicide carrier as moderate to severe crop injury can result, especially in saturated conditions.  Many post applied wheat herbicide labels allow for liquid nitrogen carriers, but require different rates and types of surfactants than if the herbicide was applied with water as the carrier.  Table 1 includes precautions to be taken when applying wheat herbicides using liquid fertilizer as a carrier; further details and directions can be acquired from the herbicide label.

Another consideration growers should take into account when planning early spring herbicide applications is the plant back restrictions to double crop soybeans.  A large percentage of the herbicides listed in Table 1, especially those with activity on Ryegrass and Brome, have soybean plant back restrictions greater than the typical three month time period between spring applications and double crop soybean planting.  The soybean plant back restrictions greatly reduce the number of options available to wheat producers who double crop soybeans after wheat.  Refer to Table 1 for more specific plant back timing restrictions.Click Here For Complete Table

Fertilizer License and Poultry Litter

Source: Glen Arnold, Field Specialist, OSU Extension (edited)

 

This winter there have been a few questions  about fertilizer license and spreading poultry manure.  According to Senate Bill 1 (SB 1), passed a few years ago, any farmer handling, receiving, or applying poultry litter (or any other manure) from a PERMITTED farm in Ohio must have either a fertilizer license or a Certified Livestock Manager certificate or be a Certified Crop Advisor.  If you have nay questions, call the Knox County Extension Office at 740-397-0401.

Nitrogen Application Timing for Weak Wheat Stands

Source: Ed Lentz, OSU Extension

Late-planted wheat fields had little opportunity for growth before cold and wet conditions moved into the area last November. Fall tiller production was limited because of early cold weather soon after planting. In addition, some wheat stands have been damaged this winter from lack of snow cover, standing water, saturated soils, ice sheets, and days of very cold temperatures.

In these situations, producers have asked whether they should apply nitrogen earlier to increase the number of spring tillers. Keep in mind, it is fall tillers that provide most of the yield in a wheat field. Heads developing from spring tillers generally are much smaller than heads from fall tillers.

In northern climates, the vegetative period of growth is much shorter than the other wheat regions of the country; thus, plants have a much shorter time to recover from winter damage. From my experience, producers will have limited success in improving yields of poor stands and stands with reduced-growth by applying nitrogen earlier. A producer may get a few more spring heads, but not enough to significantly change the yield situation. The earlier application will also significantly increase the risk of nitrogen loss. In fact, a producer may need to readjust their yield potential for these fields and reduce their total nitrogen rate accordingly.

Wheat does not need large amounts of nitrogen until jointing (Feekes GS 6), generally the latter part of April. Soil organic matter and/or nitrogen applied at planting generally provide sufficient nitrogen for early spring growth. Ohio research has shown no yield advantage for nitrogen applied before jointing. The longer the time between nitrogen application and jointing, the greater the risk for nitrogen loss. Nitrogen source will also affect the potential for loss. Urea-ammonium nitrate (28%) has the greatest potential for loss, ammonium sulfate the least, and urea would be somewhere between the two other sources.

Ohio research has also shown that yield losses may occur from nitrogen applied prior to green-up regardless of the nitrogen source. The level of loss depends on the year (losses would be smaller if the ground is not frozen or snow/ice covered). This same research did not observe a yield increase from applications made prior to green-up any year compared to green-up or Feekes GS 6 applications.  Keep in mind that green-up is a descriptive term and not a definable growth stage. My definition of green-up is when the new growth of spring has covered the dead tissue from winter giving the field a solid green color – thus, growing plants.

There is a legitimate concern that wet weather may prevent application of nitrogen at early stem elongation. Ohio research has shown a yield decrease may occur when nitrogen application is delayed until Feekes Growth Stage 9 (flag leaf fully emerged). Thus a practical compromise is to topdress nitrogen any time fields are suitable for application after initial green-up to Feekes GS 6. There is still a potential for loss even at green-up applications. To lessen this risk a producer may want to use a nitrogen source that has a lower potential for loss such as urea or ammonium sulfate. ESN (polymer-coated urea) would be another option but it needs to be blended with urea or ammonium sulfate to insure enough nitrogen will be available for the crop between Feekes GS 6 – 9. The source of nitrogen becomes less important as the application date approaches Feekes GS 6 (jointing). The percentage of urea and/or ammonium sulfate would need to be increased with ESN for application times closer to Feekes GS 6. A producer may want to consider the use of a urease inhibitor with urea if conditions are favorable for volatilization losses: warming temperatures, drying winds and no rain in the forecast for 48 hours.

A split application of nitrogen may also be used to spread the risk of nitrogen loss and to improve nitrogen efficiency; however, Ohio State University research has not shown a yield increase from this practice compared to a single application after green-up. In a split system, the first application should be applied no sooner than green-up. A smaller rate should be applied with the first application since little is needed by the crop at that time and the larger rate applied closer to Feekes GS 6.

In summary, some wheat fields look rough coming out of the winter. Applying nitrogen earlier may slightly increase the number of spring heads but probably not enough for a significant yield increase. The earlier application will increase the potential for nitrogen loss. University recommendation would be to topdress nitrogen when fields are suitable for application after initial green-up to early stem elongation.