In the 2018 growing season, Precision Planting established test plots and worked with the University of Illinois to compare the efficiency of broadcasting nitrogen fertilizer versus banding it underground near the seed furrow during corn planting.
Precision’s product Conceal attaches to planters and knifes nitrogen into the soil. The 2018 trial found this banding method led to twice the nitrogen uptake by plants.
By applying nitrogen with a slightly different atomic weight than the element found in soil, a mass spectrometer at U of I was able to trace where the nitrogen in harvested corn came from. The data shows crops that received a dual-banded application had twice as many modified nitrogen particles as crops that were sprayed.
The experiment took place on a small scale because of modified nitrogen’s steep price tag. Crop production research group CropSmith Inc. applied fertilizer by hand sprayer to 10-by-10-foot test plots, while also replicating the dual and single bands Precision Planting’s Conceal product would normally make. Later applications of sidedressing didn’t contain the traceable nitrogen, making the first application of nitrogen the exclusive target of their research.
“Going from broadcasting that 80 pounds to dual-banding that 80 pounds, it doubled the uptake efficiency,” says Cory Muhlbauer, research and development agronomist at Precision Planting. “So, you can see how there’s big opportunities to get a bigger return.”
Uptake efficiency for double-banding was found to be 51%. Single bands came in high at 43% — better than broadcast’s uptake efficiency of 27%.
What is Conceal?
Conceal knifes nitrogen at a 1-inch depth, 3 inches to either or both sides of the corn seeds. It does so consistently, even over hilly terrain, because it strikes out from a groove in the wheel that’s maintaining contact with the ground and deflecting residue.
“Since the gauge wheel influences your opening disk depth, it’s also going to be controlling the knife depth, which keeps the placement consistent,” says Jeremy Hodel, product manager at Precision Planting.
“Unfortunately, there are some attachments that apply fertilizer and tend to move the closing system around. The advantage Conceal has over other attachments: We’re not doing anything to mess with the closing system’s position or performance,” he adds.
Roots reach the nitrogen store Conceal places during the V3 growth stage, Hodel says.
“Generally, with nitrogen, you’re applying higher rates, and it’s not safe to be applying in furrow. But once you get farther away and you’re actually getting it underground, that’s really the optimal placement for the plant,” he adds.
When farmers purchase Precision Planting’s Conceal product, they have the option of choosing a single- or double-band setup.
“In some cases, we see a pretty strong response, maybe a good 5-bushel advantage, for double band over single,” Hodel says. “Whereas an environment where you’re getting a lot of the nutrients from the soil itself, there’s less of a difference. Maybe it’s hardly even measurable.”