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Serving: MN
fertilizer application in field
PLAN AHEAD: Last fall’s wet weather conditions prevented fall fertilizer applications for many Minnesota farmers. If you will be fertilizing fields this spring, talk to your retailer and/or applicator now.

It’s April. Do you know where your nitrogen is?

Ag Water Stewardship: Don’t wait to figure out your spring nitrogen applications.

Weather conditions in the fall of 2018 were very challenging for many Minnesota farmers. As a result, many planned fall nitrogen applications did not happen.

If you are making adjustments in your nutrient application program, and I hope you have evaluated options throughout the winter and are prepared for what may be a hectic spring.

Spring and in-season nitrogen applications are becoming very common. However, making the switch from fall to spring can be a challenge when done not as part of a plan, but due to extreme weather conditions. The situation can be compounded if fall tillage was also affected.

Where wet conditions persist into spring, further adjustments may be needed to reduce problems with compaction and smaller windows of time for field operations to occur. In addition to affecting timeliness of fieldwork, fertilizer retailers and manure applicators may be stretched thin.

If you have not yet talked to your applicator, be sure to do so well in advance.

For those who did get nitrogen applied last fall, research shows that properly applied nitrogen is likely still available for the 2019 crop, though early season conditions could still affect losses.

If you are unsure of your nitrogen status, talk to your agronomist or Extension specialist about the specifics of your situation.

In considering future plans, you should also re-evaluate established Best Management Practice guidelines established by the University of Minnesota against changes in weather patterns. For example, the use of fall urea in southwest and west-central Minnesota is supported based on expected 30-year precipitation. Recent precipitation patterns suggest that fall urea applications are riskier than during previous drier weather cycles.

Research also confirms that fall urea applications present greater risk of loss in south-central Minnesota as has previously been reported. Fall urea remains a suitable option for northwest Minnesota, which continues to experience lower rainfall than other regions.

The University of Minnesota Extension nutrient management team provides numerous online resources to help address both basic nitrogen cycle questions and more detailed issues related to fertilizer and manure application, soil testing and specific crop needs.

Learn more at

Evaluating options and planning ahead should help as you move from plan a to plan b, c and so on. Here’s to great weather and a smooth planting season!

Formo is executive director of the Minnesota Agricultural Water Resource Center.

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