FARGO, N.D. — Corn growers once assumed that mid-row banding or dribbling was the best way to apply in-season nitrogen.
But now there’s a better way.
A simple liquid application device called the 360 Y-drop is dragged along the ground between two corn rows. However, instead of a single hose dribbling down the middle, 360 Y-drop splits the liquid flow into two separate hoses — one to the left and the other to the right — with each hose dribbling directly on the roots. This means no liquid flows into the middle.
Nitrogen isn’t as mobile as we once assumed, nor do the roots seek out nitrogen as quickly as we once assumed. There’s a significant time gap.
However, putting nitrogen directly on the root eliminates that time gap, says Dave Mulder, product manager for John Deere application equipment, who was at the Big Iron Farm Show in Fargo last month to talk about the 360 Y-drop system, produced by 360 Yield Center in Illinois.
“Recent research has shown that the timeliness of nitrogen application is more important than previously thought,” Mulder said.
“So guys are coming back to dribbling, but they want it to be more efficient than it was in the past.”
Growers used to band nitrogen or dribble it, but it was so time consuming that most stopped doing it, he added.
“When you side dress nitrogen with your rows on 30 inch centres, the N is almost 15 inches from the base of the plant,” he said.
“If you’re on 40 inch centres, the gap between fertilizer and target is nearly 20 inches. Valuable uptake time is wasted while they find each other.
“We now understand that corn picks up 60 percent of its nitrogen from a radius of about seven inches, so why would you put nitrogen 15 or 20 inches away from those roots?”
Mulder said environmental concerns are also driving new technology such as the Y-drop 360.
The financial cost of wasted nitrogen to the grower had always been a big factor, going back to the 1970s, but now the environmental impact has become an equally significant factor. He emphasizes that we don’t want nitrogen to run off or become volatile.
Putting nitrogen directly onto the root ensures that it’s taken up quickly, thus reducing the odds of escape into the environment.
The enormous yield potential of today’s hybrid varieties demands a high rate of nitrogen, he added. Placing liquid on the roots is the best way to satisfy that demand.
“We’ve seen yield benefits up in the range of 30 bushels in multiple conditions and multiple varieties, but to get those maximum benefits, you first need a good understanding of your crop’s condition,” he said. “You need good information from soil testing and plant tissue analysis, and you don’t want to put on so much nitrogen that you hurt the plant.”
The 360 Yield Center says that full-size field trials on 500 fields showed a 10 bu. benefit over mid-row coulter application, with some fields showing benefits in the range of 30 to 50 bu.
“Where the hose comes down from the boom, there’s a triangular boot with a splitter to divide the flow into a left tube and a right tube instead of just a single hose going down to the ground,” said Mulder.
“You can do row spacings from 15 inches all the way up to 40 inch row spacing. The only thing you change is the length of the two tubes. As you drag it along, the ends of the hoses run right up against the corn stalks so the liquid flows out right on top of the roots. Simple as that.”
The system is not exclusive to Deere. The same 360 Y-drop fits any brand of boom. The price in Canada is about $800 per unit.