Side dressing nitrogen gives options

Timing of nitrogen applications | Making 
final nitrogen decisions in June can 
save money and bump yields

BRANDON — North Dakota corn growers have found that summer side dressing allows them to reduce nitrogen rates while increasing yields.

Side dressing is the norm in the heart of the U.S. corn belt but has only recently moved into the northern border states, said Todd Botterill, distributor for Thurston Blue-Jet application equipment.

Two summers ago, Botterill toured the farm of Shane Kyllo, the Blue-Jet dealer at Mayville, N.D. Kyllo was conducting a field scale, side-by-side comparison pitting side banded nitrogen against the all-at-once nitrogen regime that is common in his area.

“When I saw the fields, cobs on the field with side dressed N were 20 to 25 percent larger,” said Botterill.

The side dressed plants were also 60 centimetres taller and a deeper shade of green.

“The results were so impressive that he sold 25 Blue-Jet injection applicators the next year.”

Botterill said corn growers in the Mayville area commonly expend 1.2 pounds of nitrogen for each bushel of corn.

“Some of those same growers are now putting down .9 and even .85 pounds of nitrogen per bushel of corn with no sacrifice in yield. Across the board, they average a 10 percent reduction in nitrogen input costs,” he said. “Yes, it’s an extra pass over the field, but consider that side dress gives you options you otherwise don’t have.”

He said the more nitrogen farmers put down in the fall, the more they need to worry about losing money over the winter.

The less nitrogen they put down, the less risk they have.

Corn growers who have become accustomed to the side dress concept generally put down one-third of their nitrogen in the fall and one-third at seeding time.

They hold off on the final one-third until June when they can do a fair assessment of the crop. If things are looking bleak, they save money by not wasting the nitrogen. If it looks good, they put down the final third.

“And if it looks like a really great stand and you’ve got good moisture, then you can really pour on the nitrogen. That’s why farmers view side dressing as a management tool. It gives them options.”

Botterill said most growers side dress with liquid fertilizer because it’s the most convenient, although they can also use granular or anhydrous.

However, he said anhydrous has added risks, not only from the product itself but also because the in-ground working tool can cut the roots.

“Even with 30 inch row spacing, the roots will have grown to the middle between the two rows by the time you go in to side dress,” he said.

“In order to seal up the soil properly so you don’t lose anhydrous, your knife has to go deeper than it would with either liquid or granular. So you stand a good chance of pruning the roots. Anytime you do that, it’s a step backwards for the plant.”

The 1,200 lb. down pressure is higher than other side dressing machines, while liquid tank options go as high as 3,100 U.S. gallons, running on tracks 14 inches wide and 73 inches long.

A basic 12 row side dress machine on 30 inch spacing costs about $38,000.

For more information, contact Botterill at 204-871-5004 or visit

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