When it comes to late-season nitrogen, Beck's Hybrids Jason Webster has quite a few tricks up his sleeve. And, he's evaluating every one of them.
The director of Beck's practical farm research program was onsite in western Tazewell County last week applying different forms of nitrogen with a fleet of high-clearance rigs. One applicator was setup with sidedress system, which utilized a high-pressure injection nozzle following a coulter for 28% UAN. The second system precision dropped urea between corn rows, using a high-clearance applicator. Webster was behind the wheel of the third test vehicle, which was dribbling 28% UAN. However, this wasn't just any run-of-the-mill dribble system.
The New Holland sprayer was outfitted with a new 28% dribble system called the Y Drop. Those who have dribbled most likely used a long hose, and dropped the UAN in the middle of the row, which could be 15 inches or so away from the actual plant. The Y Drop splits each hose into two, and lays the 28% within the root zone on both sides. Webster left the traditional hose drops in the center of the sprayer as a check to verify any yield boosts that result from the Y Drop.
Of course, whether it's urea or 28% UAN, any N product left above ground this year could be at significant risk for volatilization. "We really need to catch a rain to get the nitrogen down into the root zone," Webster explains. Sidedress is most assuredly the preferred application method in dry years.
Crop health imaging
Beck's late-season nitrogen tests piggyback with their crop health imaging program. Utilizing an aerial imaging program, Webster and his team can measure crop health in grower's fields. Ideally the imaging will begin when the corn reaches the V10 growth stage, Webster says. The key is waiting until the canopy closes to avoid picking up bare ground in the images.
"With the crop health imaging, you can see if you're short on nitrogen before it's too late," Webster adds.
Once the images come back, Webster says a grower can use one of their high-clearance applicators when corn is shoulder high. In this sort of approach, the grower doesn't have to worry about covering 1,000-plus corn acres with the sidedress toolbar. They need only hit the areas that showed up as deficient on the imaging photos.
Even if growers do not have a feasible method for making a late-season N application, Webster says the imaging technology can help them diagnose problems that may typically be blamed on the perennial yield scapegoat: drainage. At only $2 per acre, the price is right.
"I always ask growers, what can you buy anymore that only costs $2 an acre," Webster adds.
While the plane flies overhead, mounted cameras measure different wavelengths of light, Webster explains.
"Our cameras measure the difference in how much red light is absorbed by a plant, versus the amount of near-infrared light being reflected," Webster explains. "Knowing this allows us to measure Normalized Difference in Vegetative Index, which correlates nicely to overall plant health and yield potential."