Make nitrogen more efficient

Injection rig blends NH3 with liquid to net an extra US$60 per acre

LANGHAM, Sask. —American corn growers are realizing a one-third increase in nitrogen efficiency by using the Exactrix TAPPS application system.

TAPPS technology injects NH3 along with a liquid fertilizer blend, creating a soil environment that reduces nitrogen loss, Exactrix agronomist Guy Swanson said.

“In dryland scenarios, the grower nets about 60 more (US) dollars per acre. In irrigated high-yield production, the grower gets about 150 more net dollars per acre,” Swanson said.

“TAPPS makes the nitrogen about 166 percent more crop useable. The processor injects anhydrous ammonia in a very high pressure streaming flow. It’s not necessarily a method for cutting rates. It’s more a matter of using the same nitrogen to grow more crop.

“It’s the highest form of crop-available nitrogen on the planet. It’s ammonium and that’s what the plants want. It’s injected so uniformly that we don’t have hot spots.”

Swanson said NH3 is always looking for water because water is hydrogen and NH3 loves hydrogen. With a high pH of nearly 14, anhydrous ammonia is very alkaline and reacts quickly with the acidic poly phosphate. This is known as an acid-based reaction.

“There’s a big temperature swing because you’re splitting up the water that’s in the poly-phosphate. There’s plenty of hydrogen in the poly-phosphate. That splitting converts NH3 into NH4.

“And there’s sulfur in there, too, in the form of ammonium thio-sulphate. It’s critical in stabilizing the band. It makes the band non-attractive to nitrous amines and nitro bacteria. The word ‘thio’ means toxic to plant life. You cannot apply thio-sulphate directly to a plant. You’ll burn the leaves and you’ll kill the germination of the plant.

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“So, down in this deep band the nitrous amines and nitro bacteria cannot proliferate. It takes a good deal of time for the pH to come down and for any oxidation to occur. That time delay is key to fall banding. It slows down the process so the nitrous amines and nitro bacteria don’t feed well. So it’s really a nitrogen stabilizer.”

Swanson said a primitive form of the practice was used in the 1960s and 1970s in winter wheat. Producers used straight ammonia with nitrosol liquid fertilizer added to the ammonia tank. This recipe stabilized the ammonia so that it could be applied in the fall. Exactrix simply took that basic concept and refined it to the point that it has evolved into the safe and highly predictable TAPPS practice in use today, he added.

The Crop Production Services outlet at Sexsmith, Alta., just purchased its own TAPPS rig, and had it on display at the Ag in Motion show near Saskatoon a couple of weeks ago.

CPS agronomist Blaine Richter said he visited U.S. growers who have been using the technology for years before deciding to invest in the system.

“Corn growers are applying under .6 pounds of N per bushel. They’re getting 300 bu. per acre in irrigated corn with this remarkable nitrogen efficiency,” he said.

“The typical ratio has always been one pound nitrogen to grow one bu. of corn. Now they’re cutting that down to .6 pounds nitrogen. They’re saving a remarkable amount of money because the nitrogen is stabilized. Nitrogen loss is a major issue in areas like the Nebraska with their sandy soils.

“Operational efficiencies save them even more money. They’re able to put all their fertilizer down in one trip over the field. Now they can eliminate that spring application of 400 lb. of dry fertilizer. They can apply fertilizer all the way through November just about every year.”

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For all the apparent benefits of TAPPS, Richter said CPS still views the Alberta purchase as a pilot project. The one machine it commissioned will cover as many acres as possible in the Sexsmith area this fall. He will then assess the viability of the unit, particularly in canola.

“With TAPPS, we hope to improve canola stand establishment. We believe that will be the case. Poor canola stands are more susceptible to damage from flea beetles and other problems, plus hybrid seed is expensive. You want the healthiest stand possible.

“If you can get all your fertilizer down in the fall, that means you can park the air drill and seed canola with a planter, and that has all kinds of proven benefits. The cost of TAPPS is mitigated by the benefits.”

Swanson said the banding tool bar and Mustang P51 discs are exclusive Exactrix products, as are the unique TAPPS formulators. Contrary to what people think, the system is not just for corn growers.

“All crops are really the same when it comes to the need for N, P, K, S and micronutrients. It’s just the quantity and timing that’s different,” he said.

“US$60 net in dryland and US$150 net under irrigation — that’s about the same numbers whether we’re talking corn, wheat or cotton.”

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