December 1, 2008

5 Min Read

The streaks in Allan Wolf's corn fields last year suggested he had a problem with nitrogen (N) distribution. Most rows were a vibrant green color, but others were dominated by plants with faded, yellow leaves.

Although Wolf used an electronic rate controller to ensure he applied the desired anhydrous ammonia rate per acre, problems like plugged knife openings went undetected until the yellow streaks showed up.

“You'd think anhydrous ammonia was coming out because you'd see white smoke, but later in the growing season you could see that row didn't get enough N,” says Wolf, who grows 2,000 acres of corn and soybeans with his son Daniel near Geneseo, IL.

“I wanted to find a way to monitor each row,” Wolf says. Through a quick search on the Internet, Wolf discovered the aNH3 Equaply (, a kit that can be retrofitted onto standard anhydrous ammonia applicator systems to regulate and monitor flow at each knife opening. Wolf installed the kit on a 16-row/8-knife toolbar he used to sidedress anhydrous ammonia early this past summer.

Back in 1999, Lauren Kiest was also fed up with evidence of poor N distribution at farms he owns in Lincoln, IL. As a chemical engineer, he was shocked at the lack of engineering to control flow with standard anhydrous ammonia applicators. The anhydrous ammonia going through was a mish-mash of liquid and vapor ammonia, which is very difficult to control or split through a manifold, says Kiest. On a hill, “vapor goes to the rows on the up side and liquid goes to the rows on the low side and you get absolutely awful (N) distribution,” explains Kiest.

Kiest started working on engineering solutions to improve row-to-row distribution along with farmers Randy and Doug Litterly, Elkhart, IL. Together, they formed the company, aNH3. In 2001, aNH3 launched its first commercial kit for retrofitting anhydrous ammonia toolbars.

The aNH3 Equaply kit includes a centrifugal pump that boosts the pressure of anhydrous ammonia as it leaves the nurse tank. This mitigates tank pressure changes such as the pressure drops that occur on very cold days. A heat exchanger cools the anhydrous ammonia with a very small gas coolant stream on the side.

By using engineered TeeJet orifices in each knife line, pressure can be maintained so the anhydrous ammonia remains in liquid form until it's split evenly by the manifold between the knives. Orifices have to be changed to match desired application rates.

Each knife line has a gauge to monitor individual knife pressure, so operators can tell at a glance when a line or knife is plugged or other pressure changes. In addition, an Acme coupler with a high-flow globe valve is mounted on the nurse tank. A 1¼-in. anhydrous ammonia hose connects to a high-flow breakaway valve at the inlet of the heat exchanger. The entire flow control system is adapted to interface with John Deere's GreenStar and Ag Leader Technology's InSight control systems.

JIM KINSELLA AND his son Brien have used the Equaply kit for the past four years at their farming operation in Lexington, IL. Jim, a recognized pioneer in strip-tilling, says the system has helped improve their overall N efficiency and allows them to work much faster on cold days.

“Other systems depend on the tank pressure to push the liquid out into the lines,” he says. “When tank pressure is low you have to slow down. But this system allows us to run regardless of tank pressure. We can run at 5-6 mph even when it gets cold.”

Kinsella credits the combination of strip-tilling and having better control of anhydrous ammonia distribution for making it possible to cut N rates by 10-20%. “We are now using only about 0.75 lb. N/bu. of corn we produce,” he says. “We've improved efficiency by having N right under the row and having an equal amount in every row.”

Kiest says he thinks anhydrous ammonia will likely drop to $800/ton this spring. “Even with the lower price, a farmer with 2,000 acres of corn is going to spend close to $160,000/year on anhydrous ammonia,” he says. “Applying it more efficiently can save 10-20%; this is serious money.”

Retrofitting the kit on standard equipment is simple, reports Kinsella. “You just bolt it on,” he says. When he and Brien ordered a new 12-row toolbar recently, they opted to buy it bare without the standard distribution system to free up money to invest in the Equaply retrofit kit. “Spending a lot of money for a bar for strip-tilling and then buying an old distribution system is like buying a Cadillac without an air conditioner,” Kinsella says.

The aNH3 Equaply kits sell for $10,000-20,000 depending on size and specific components and configurations. (A competitive delivery system is available from Exactrix Global Systems,

Inventor Kiest is also working on a system to inject N-Serve into the anhydrous ammonia stream in an applicator manifold. Kiest says this will allow growers to adjust the ratio of N-Serve to anhydrous ammonia (not possible when N-Serve is mixed directly in the nurse tank) and makes variable-rate N-Serve applications an option.

BEYOND TOOLBAR adaptations, there is another equipment issue that has a huge impact on row-to-row distribution of anhydrous ammonia, according to Kiest. That's the standard fittings on fertilizer nurse tanks. Most are equipped with 1-in. valves at the top of the tank, which Kiest says restricts flow between the standpipe and the supply hoses. Restricted flow at the tank makes it difficult to regulate pressure through the entire system.

“This inadequate valve is one of the main causes of improper application,” says Kiest. He recommends shopping around for tanks with 1¼-in. valves if you buy your own tank or insisting that your fertilizer dealer upgrade theirs with the larger valves, which he says cost about $150/tank.

So far, Wolf says results at his farm from using the Equaply system look promising. Gone are telltale yellow streaks from N deficiency that showed up in his fields last year. The new anhydrous ammonia distribution system assured him each knife was delivering the desired flow of N. “It looked real even when it was going on and that's how it looks in the field, too,” Wolf says.

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