• Precision Ag Reviews

Ep. 33: Nitrogen Management & Research Updates with John Fulton


Nitrogen is heavily influenced by its environment, making it not only one of our most expensive inputs but also one of the most unpredictable. While we have a good understanding of how specific things in the environment influence the way nitrogen reacts, it's virtually impossible to understand what the environment's impact will be when it's time to apply nitrogen on your crop. Because of that, growers have been working to time nitrogen applications when they have more information, later in the season – but is that the right approach? To help us better understand our investment in nitrogen, John Fulton, professor at Ohio State University (OSU), shares an update on his team’s research in Episode 33 of Precision Points.


How Much Nitrogen Do I Need?

One question Fulton’s team is trying to answer is, “How much nitrogen do I need?” John makes it very clear that managing nitrogen is complex. Every field has some level of variability in organic matter. That means every field has variability in yield potential, which influences how you potentially feed your crop. There isn’t a straight answer to whether you feed the higher organic matter areas or the lower organic matter areas. The answer for that year depends on how the environment has shaped up so far.


“If we're having a really good year, soil temps have been really good, we've got a lot of biological activity, so there's higher organic mineralization, or, as I call it, the soil bank. The bank might be giving us more interest that year because you’ve got more activity in that soil,” John started. “So basically the soil has mineralized the nitrogen needed, so I don't have to put on as much. In a general sense, rate wise, I'm still getting a pretty decent amount.”


Knowing how much nitrogen the soil has made plant-available is the next part of the equation. Per John’s past research, he has found that, in Ohio, on average a bushel of corn takes about 0.96 pounds of nitrogen. Deviations from the average are what makes nitrogen’s best answer so complex.


“What I would tell you is that, a lot of times in those tighter soils, you're going to have to be above the 1.1, 1.2 kind of scenarios and in the good soils, we can definitely be down at 0.8, 0.75,” John shared. “There isn't just a straight formula that you can go through to do that because...we just don't know our soil mineralization rate. One year, we were growing 250-bushel corn on nitrogen use efficiency, a calculation of 0.6 or a little bit less. Two years later, the same field in the program wasn't doing that. It's a different production year. The soil mineralization was different, and so we had to make different adjustments and maps.”


When Should I Apply Nitrogen?

The next question John tries to tackle is, “When should I apply my nitrogen?” Many growers are already split-applying nitrogen. That looks a little different depending on where you farm, but usually includes a pre-plant and a post-emergence component.


“The later we can put the balance of our nitrogen back out, probably the more informed we're going to be. By the time we get to around that V10 stage, we know what we're setting up for the year. We know at that point what the potential is in that crop and we know what's happened from planting to that point,” said John. “Again, by trying to estimate what the soil bank is providing us and having that knowledge, we're going to be much more efficient and probably more profitable in that scenario – but it does take time and commitment to make that happen.”


John shared that 50 units of nitrogen up front will likely get you to V10-V14 without seeing nitrogen deficiency. From there you can make your decision on the proper rate based on how you have seen the season progress. Sometimes, however, waiting until that late in the season will impact your ability to traditionally apply nitrogen. You may need to consider a high clearance spinner spreader with a dry product or high clearance Y-drop applicator for liquid to get across your field without damaging your growing crop.


John encourages all growers to experiment with different rates and timings to figure out what works best for their farm. To learn more about the research the team at OSU is doing, visit their Digital Ag website and tune into Precision Points Episode 33 using the player above or your favorite podcast app to hear our full conversation.



Host: Morgan Seger

Morgan Seger grew up on a small farm in northwest Ohio before studying agriculture at The Ohio State University. She spent 10 years working with ag retail – specifically in ag tech – prior to hosting the Precision Points Podcast. She lives and farms in western Ohio with her husband Ben and their four children. Morgan has her own blog, Heart and Soil, where she talks about her experience farming, gardening, and raising her family.





Guest: John Fulton

John Fulton is a professor in the Food, Agriculture and Biological Engineering Department at The Ohio State University. His research and Extension efforts focus on precision agriculture, machinery automation and use of spatial data to improve crop production and the farm business.






Transcription:

Host: Morgan Seger

Guest: John Fulton


Voiceover:

Welcome to Precision Points, an ag tech podcast, where we plant seeds of innovation to inspire informed decisions about precision technology and its impact for growers like you, we explore precision ag tools and technology from the soil to the sky with your host Morgan Seger.


Morgan Seger:

Welcome back to Precision Points, an ag tech podcast from precisionagreviews.com. I'm your host Morgan Seger. And in each episode, we strive to bring you unbiased ag tech information and ideas. Today on the show, I'm joined again by our friend, Dr. John Fulton from the Ohio State University, and we dive into the world of nitrogen. After I stopped our recording today, he said, "If nitrogen were so easy, we'd have it figured out." So we spent a lot of time today talking through some of the nuances of nitrogen management.


Morgan Seger:

So we're going to try to tackle, rate, timing, and placement, and some of the research that he's been doing and the team at Ohio State has been doing to really help us get answers to those questions. At the end of the day, every year is a little bit different, and the message he's really getting across to, at least to me today, was we have to pay attention to what the season is giving us, because that's greatly going to impact the economic results we have of any sort of nitrogen application depending on timing, placement, and things like that. So with that being said, I hope you enjoy this conversation I have with Dr. John Fulton.


Morgan Seger:

Welcome back to Precision Points. Today I'm joined by once again, Dr. John Fulton. John, welcome to the show.


John Fulton:

Good to visit with you on these topics. Some of these are very important as we advance here in agriculture. So, that's good.


Morgan Seger:

Yeah, I'm excited to work through what we ended our conversation with last time. So in episode 27, you were on, and we talked about getting the planter ready. As we were wrapping up, you hinted that you had some really cool nitrogen studies going on. So I'm excited to dive into that. And I guess I thought maybe we could just start with, what is the question you're trying to answer with this nitrogen research and then what did those studies look like?


John Fulton:

Yeah, well, there's different studies that we're working on, but in terms of just, what are we trying to accomplish? First of all, I would say we're working to evaluate, that placement, timing and rate, and some of our trials – at each one of those just individually – some of our trials, that's a combination, but the outcome of that and really what we're trying to drive to is for the applied nitrogen that we're putting out there. And we're including the new manure, meaning to maximize uptake by typically corn, in some cases, wheat we're talking about, but for our discussion today, we'll stick with corn, but we want to be as efficient as possible. And so the point is if I'm applying 180, 200, 200-plus units of nitrogen, how much of that can we get in the plant and get it up to uptake? And three things really come out of that is, it retains profitability, you're being more efficient. So it really increases your margin, meaning that overall there's an opportunity to possibly reduce the amount applied while maintaining or getting relative yield out of that. Secondly, you're understanding how nitrogen works within your system. And I think that's important.


John Fulton:

I mean, a lot of times we make some decisions and we blanket apply, but as we evaluate year by year and what works and what doesn't, we've got to constantly fine tune because that's to the third point. I mean, some areas, in particular northwest Ohio, is under scrutiny for phosphorous, but right beside phosphorous is nitrogen. And so when you look at other states, in particular Illinois and Iowa, nitrates and water bodies is a big concern. And so the public is asking us to be sound in our decisions as we use nutrients, and in particular nitrogen, what we apply to that field, we don't want to leave. And so being as efficient. So that's a really long answer to the question, but embedded in that are decisions, and those decisions relate to rate, timing, and it was my placement options to make that all happen.


Morgan Seger:

Sure. That makes a lot of sense. We've had a lot of people talking about, just overall stewardship. And so we see people really trying to hone that and reel it in, I guess, where they can. And then, by doing that, it's also going to help increase profitability and those types of things. But at the same time, we don't want the crop to starve. We want to make sure we're getting as much out of our field as possible. So what do the trials look like that you have set up today?


John Fulton:

I'll just try not to get too detailed, but I'll say up front and this goes back to some of our earlier discussions, again, we're in a precision discussion here, right? I mean, what tools and what information can be provided, whether that's preseason or now we're thinking, what more in-season information can we have at our fingertips to adjust or manage our nitrogen? And so I would say, first of all, at least the six years I've been at Ohio State have really utilized imagery. How's imagery play into the role of... In my mind what we've carved out is two things. How can we use that to help us make decisions, whether that's sidedress mid-season or late season type practices that we see, but at the same time, how does that play a role in verifying that what we did was done correctly, per se, it verifies, "Hey, I put, X amount out at sidedress and nitrogen is not my limiting factor. I got that put on uniformly. It's not the limiting factor. And so we can carry that forward."


John Fulton:

And so the first thing is that, most of all of our studies have imagery as a part of that study, whether that's evaluating imagery and putting it through analytical processes to create zones or such for some variable rate type activities to just verifying backside, once we do have that nitrogen out there, that it was applied and that we see a response out of that crop or that crop continues on to yield potential that we're planning on and we hope to achieve at the end of the seasons. That make sense?


Morgan Seger:

Yes.


John Fulton:

So that's one thing. The other thing that we've done was we've done some placement studies. And so, there's lots of questions, a few years ago about placement options out there about are y-drops the thing that you use over coulters and injection or if I just go to the more simpler and possibly cheaper route of just placing some of that liquid nitrogen 28 or 32 on top. And so we really have done some work in that area, and we even talked little bit about the results, but just placement options.


John Fulton:

And then more recently, we're really trying to hone in on the rate and timing piece. So for a grower, I've got these tools, I've got these nitrogen sources at my disposal that I feel like I can pay for, okay. And so with tools I’m given, how do I get that out there? How do I time it such that I can be back, to my earlier point, efficient in terms of making sure we got maximum uptake by the plants? And so we've been spending a lot more time on that, kind of here, recently the last couple of years. And we continue to do some work and studies around the state on that.


Morgan Seger:

Sure. So a couple of followup questions for you. If we go back to imagery, we've had lots of people who have tried imagery, and once they had it, they could see different things going on in their field, but they didn't know how to translate that into some sort of action. Do you have any tips for them on what to look for, how to use it to create an actionable step?


John Fulton:

So, first of all, when you get and I think we've talked about this in your prior, I mean, when you go to that step of using imagery or some of the other types of modeling tools/apps out there, there's a little bit more work to that. You're adding another part of the decision process. And so I just want to say upfront that one of the challenges that we've had in the studies that we've done with several companies is a lot of these tools have some potential and can work, but it also takes time and commitment typically on the farmers' part and most likely the consultant part to really make those work. And sometimes people underestimate the time and some of those challenges of getting through to that.


John Fulton:

So there's a part of that. Back to your question on the imagery, should I say all that is we've had some real success in identifying using imagery as it relates to nitrogen in particular for mid- and late-season applications. And what I would tell you is why I think that happens more successfully then maybe than at sidedress is the premise that we've been dealing with is we allow Mother Nature to play as many cards as she can before we ultimately make that nitrogen decision. And normally, you're talking sidedress, possibly starting at V3 and you're probably done at V5 because, if you're using a sidedress unit, I mean, high kind of limits you to go beyond V5, V6.


John Fulton:

And so that's still early in the season. We're setting some yield potential, no doubt about it, at that V5, V6 timeframe, but it's really what's happening later in the season that ultimately influences yield, right? So let her play the cards more. And so I say all that is, some things that we've learned, you can't just take one image in the season and say, "I'm going to base my decisions on that." Because that's just one snapshot of time out of that field. And things change so rapidly day to day in some cases. So you got to keep that in mind. So from an imagery, if you're going to work with imagery, you need to be working with a partner, a company that can serve that up. And they're going to be serving imagery over time because I go back and we were always like, "Well, we need our imagery at V6."


John Fulton:

Well, you're not going to get your imagery at V6 because you just can't call up the company and say, "I need you to fly tomorrow." They just can't do that. So to help with that, most of the companies today, at least that we've been able to work with are going to give you a minimum of 10 scenes over the growing season, something we're starting in, we'll say mid April and going through September at some point, and they're going to ramp up the frequency of those flights, in that late June and July. And that's really when our corn crops are really taking off here in the state of Ohio. And so that was one thing. It's in terms of making sure that you're tracking that crop, you're adding good on-the-ground scouting. So you got eyes on that crop too.


John Fulton:

So when you do see things in the imagery, you understand what that is. That's an area that's just been water logged, and what we're seeing in the imagery is, hey, we are seeing some deficiency or some disease or some other kind of pressure that we just are making a differential. So, anyways, getting down to that, the imagery. So what we talk about is if we can get that image somewhere in that V9 to V14, there's a little bit of an art to this, but you're starting to see the biomass production of that crop.


John Fulton:

And so I describe that as the biomass footprint. And ultimately we see that as a real reflection of what that yield match is going to be at the end of the season, barring any weather issues that happen thereafter. There's no doubt, we could go dry and what we see, but knowing what we know that day, if we can get and track those two or three scenes there in that June and July, and that's kind of that mid-season, or late season, and you're tracking that biomass, you can then take that image if you have the equipment, typically a little higher clearance whether we'll get the source on this, but you're going to have to use a higher clearance machine to do a mid- to late-season application.


John Fulton:

But you can take that image out of one of those three scenes and say, "Definitely that's our biomass footprint for this year." And I can convert that into a zone map and say, "Okay, in those zones, I can use that image to delineate zones that I want to attach rates to knowing on ground scouting I know hopefully I have a good sense of what the organic matter and production per se is across that field because, typically higher organic matter... Very simply put, higher organic matter, better soils are going to produce more, or have a better opportunity there, and those harder soils, more clay that, maybe are more eroded or are just not probably going to produce as much year after year."


John Fulton:

So without that known, I can take that biomass footprint with agronomic knowledge and convert that into an application map. And typically on our end, a lot of times we're somewhere between zero and we might be throwing 120 to 130, even 150, depending on the year, units back out there at that point. And normally when we're talking about that kind of strategy of using that imagery, we're talking about using a high clearance and maybe using something like urea, so we can use a spinner spreader to get over and have the clearance, or we can go to a sprayer type platform and do a nitrogen application with 28 or 32.


Morgan Seger:

Yeah.


John Fulton:

Does that answer your question?


Morgan Seger:

Yeah, it does. You did a great job answering the question. One quick follow-up: you said obviously the higher organic matter soils are going to yield more, those harder soils generally don't. So when you come back in, are you seeing a better result by feeding the higher organic matter areas more since they have higher potential or are you feeding those tighter soils to try to get more out of them?


John Fulton:

First of all, I'll say that managing nitrogen is complex. I think we all know that. And so that's a great question, but there's not a straight answer to, so I would say in some years we may feed those organic soils more and some years we're not going to feed them quite as much in general. And it really would be nice in my mind to have a little bit more research across the state. And this is, what I would tell you is, we've always talked about, put a pound of nitrogen out for bushels produced, right? That was kind of a rule of thumb for years. What I would tell you, a lot of times in those tighter soils, you're going to have to be above the 1.1, 1.2 kind of scenarios and in the good soils, we can definitely be down at 0.8, 0.75 .


John Fulton:

I say all that, the question though is, for that year what kind of year has kind of set up? I mean, we're having a really good year, soil temps have been really good, we've got a lot of biological activity. And so there's higher organic. Could be, I call it the soil bank. The bank might be giving us more interest that year because you got more activity in that soil. So basically the soil is mineralized and the nitrogen needed. So I don't have to put on as much. It can be more or less. But in a general sense rate wise, I'm still putting on a pretty decent amount. The question is, how much does it need? So that's where some of that agronomic knowledge comes in. So some years there's maps.


John Fulton:

I guess my point in all that is the rates assigned to those areas – there isn't just a straight formula that you can go through to do that because of trying to estimate what the banks give me. That soil bank is the missing link out to making all this work effectively for us. We just don't know our soul mineralization rate. One year, we were growing 250-bushel corn on nitrogen use efficiency, a calculation of 0.6 or a little bit less. Two years later, the same field in the program wasn't doing that. It's a different production year. Different characteristics... The soil mineralization was different. And so we had to make different adjustments on our map. The point in all that is, on average we greatly reduced... I don't know if you knew this, I took a bunch of calculations about four years ago to estimate what is our conversion of applied into bushel produced in the state of Ohio.


John Fulton:

And it was on average about 0.96. So when you took a bunch of research and information, you say, "Are we at that one... No, we're about 0.96." I would tell you when you go to these strategies, you're going to be well below that. And that encourages me that we can do better, but at the same time, I go back to my time, take an imagery, working through the process, having good agronomic sound knowledge to say, what rates and deal with the complexity of nitrogen in the soils, it's a commitment. I mean, you're not going on vacation come late June and July. My team's got to be ready to make that happen, and the action is out in the field. Does that make sense?


Morgan Seger:

Yeah, I love the way you answered that. That's a question we working with imagery that we got asked all of the time and the "It depends" answer is kind of a hard one to give, but it really does. So taking all of the information, the insights you have on the season so far and using that to create that rate is probably the most effective because you have the most information at that point.


John Fulton:

Yeah. But again, I'm not advocating because... But the later we can say, kind of put the balance of our nitrogen back out, probably the more informed we're going to be, because again, I always go back... By the time we get to, we'll say that V10-ish stage or something, we're really looking at knowing what we're setting up for the year, barring again, any drought conditions. But we know at that point really what the potential is in that crop and looking at it, and we know what's happened from planting to that point. And again, there's no science and I guess there is science to what I'm saying, but trying to estimate what the soil bank's providing us and having that knowledge again, waiting later, let Mother Nature play as many cards, we're going to be much more efficient and probably more profitable in that scenario, but it does take time and commitment to make that happen.


Morgan Seger:

Sure. So if someone is looking at experimenting with this on their own farm, I know you said, coming in later to put the balance of your nitrogen, is there a ratio or percentage that you think that they should plan on having upfront or coming back with later?


John Fulton:

So that is kind of the timing question, right? That's kind of put that under that. That's, in my mind, a little bit of a loaded question. What I could tell you, and again, I'm not, I should have said upfront, I always want to preface my comments. I'm not an agronomist, but I've worked with some great people and have some friends around the country that really challenged the thought process and kind of fill in those, the fertility, soil fertility type things as we know about this. But getting back to that timing, what is that ratio? That's a great question. And I would say and start to kind of throw in here, I think that's something as far as growers should think about how to do some on-farm research begin to answer that in terms of their practices, their production fields, sources of nitrogen that they have access to, or are using in conjunction and with what implements or application equipment that they're going to be using.


John Fulton:

So in general, in my mind, what we're talking about is we've got the planter, we've got the sidedress unit, and then we may have a... Whether we as a farmer have it, or you're working with a retailer, someone that has maybe a high clearance spreader or possibly if we take the sprayer, like in the background, you can see there today in my background, that's basically a Hagie that's equipped with Y-drops that we're doing a mid-season application with. My point in all that is, do research to begin to explore what is the ratio that makes sense for me, and works and gives me the opportunity to not only learn, but fine tune my nitrogen program. So I want to add that in. Back to your comment, so what we're doing is, to me, most likely we were looking at the planter sidedress unit as a ... Just looking across the state as the two primary pieces of equipment to deliver nitrogen most of the time.


John Fulton:

I do not advocate though there's an advantage, but from an efficiency standpoint, it reduces efficiency, but if I'm doing a burndown type and I'm using nitrogen as my carrier, I would tell you is, I would encourage you to try and get that worked in the ground as quick as possible so you don't have loss there. But trying to think more at planting and in-season, maximizes opportunity to be as efficient as possible with the nitrogen applied, ensuring that crops hopefully have access in using it. So with all that said, our ratios would say, you can, and I'm speaking anywhere from kind of north Ross County through Fayette County through Franklin and Columbus over to Darke County where you're at, all the way to northwest Ohio, we've done some work in that area.


John Fulton:

You can probably put down 50 units of nitrogen on your plant or roughly, and be good till later in the season, that V10 or V14 stage, and probably not see any nitrogen deficiency in your corn. Now, is that going to work for everyone? Maybe not. So I want to put the caveat, but in general, we've had 50 units up front, gets us to make the decision, whether again, is that sidedress or some kind of mid- to late season? Fifty units has been the rule of thumb that I've learned out of the studies that we've been able to run. So the question is, how do I deal with the balance of that? If I'm a typical farmer, I put 200 units out, personally that means I've got 150 left, when am I going to put those 150 on? Absolutely sidedress, a split application.


John Fulton:

Typically when I'm talking about a planter and sidedress, by far today has been proven with science to be the most profitable way to deliver nitrogen to corn across multiple states. No doubt about it. The question is, can we fine tune that and do better? And there's opportunities. So what is that ratio? Is that 50 to 150, 50 to, "Hey, I'm going to put another 130 units out to be 180 total for the thing?" That's to be determined. I got a study that we're doing at Farm Science Review, where we're looking at that. We're basically, very simple approach, using an MRT tool, which at least at Ohio State is the recommended tool to establish what's the economic rate for the coming year for the field. And we did exactly what you said, we put nothing down.


John Fulton:

We had zero strips and then basically we did the MRT in this last year. This would be 2020. And it basically said about 175 units was the most economical for the field given nitrogen prices at the time, right before planting and what we were projecting as corn prices at the end of the year in a farmer's model. And so then we did a zero upfront, 170 at sidedress. So the total was 170. So it wasn't quite 175, it was 170. And then we split it 30 - 140, 50 -120. We put 90 units on upfront on the planter and 80 at sidedress. And then we had a planter-only where we put all 170 units with the planter, which for most guys are like, "That's a lot of nitrogen to get down with the planter." But we had the technology to do that.


John Fulton:

So that gives us the capacity to add that in as a treatment. So given all those ratios, out of that study what I would tell you again, no doubt about it, sidedressing proved to be the most profitable for that. Putting 170 upfront followed by zero didn't produce... We had a pretty dry year in that field, but the most economical and the highest production in that field occurred when we put 30 units on and came back and put 140 units. So the trend, without having my chart up, was getting some up front, in this case 30 units, possibly 50, somewhere in there, and then coming back and putting a balance to that as much as you could back on sidedress and that maximized not only yield, but also profit in that scenario, does that make sense?


Morgan Seger:

Yeah. And was the sidedress around that normal, like V3 to V5 time?


John Fulton:

Correct.


Morgan Seger:

Okay.


John Fulton:

And in this case, if folks are wondering, basically we were using on the corn planter towed tank with a SureFire system to be able to accomplish the different rates on the planter very easily, two by two, primarily as the means of getting that out. So that would be telling you that. And the sidedress unit for this particular farmer in this particular study, to your point, was done at your typical sidedress, at V4ish, we'll say, give or take, and actually was equipped with y-drops and not coulters.


So not that that makes a difference, but just for everyone's information, it was planter placed, was two by two, and then the sidedress was a normal sidedress timing with y-drops. But the trend, and to your point, what's that ratio, 30 units by far was fine upfront at least to get us to the sidedress. No problems there. And then that really the more you could put the balance out of that at sidedress, the higher that you have the more profit. We can squeeze out the system by only putting 170 units out for that production year. Does that make sense?


Morgan Seger:

Yeah. So question around yield, so you had a winner, the 30 to 50 pounds upfront, and then coming back in with the balanced sidedress, with those yield numbers, I guess, was that about what he would normally see, or was it an advantage over a common practice?


John Fulton:

So, first of all, last year for that field in central Ohio, again, we're talking Madison County, the yield in that particular field was what an average below average on, if you did as a 10 year yield analysis. So it was not an above-average production year for that field. And primarily because water shut off the latter part of that mid-season to the latter part. We really went through that drought spell and that really knocked some of that yield potential out of that field. With that said, kind of average, maybe below average for that year. For that year, he squeezed a little bit more yield out of that field, given that he put a little nitrogen out and he did the sidedress.


John Fulton:

And I would say this, anything that got planter-placed nitrogen in this particular study was an advantage, and secondly, like I said, it's a trend, statistics are in this. So I don't want to say there's this big, you're gaining a lot of bushels, but there's definitely a trend to the point as the more I kind of... The more the balance I left to sidedressed, the more I saw the trend was an increase in yield and nitrogen use efficiency.


Morgan Seger:

Okay. Yeah, that makes sense. When I was working with that crop model, we would run different scenarios for fields. So that particular model we were working with would give them an estimated yield. So we would put in their normal practice and we'd give them their estimated yield. And they were like, "Okay, I'm good with that. Let's run my normal plan." But then in certain years, when we would stretch that nitrogen back later in the season, from what they normally did, we would see increases that they maybe didn't even know would have been possible. They would have been happy and considered it a win if they just did their normal practices, but there were still bushels out there that we could have gained.


John Fulton:

Sure.


Morgan Seger:

So I think this kind of just, those scenarios helped me shape my mindset of like, "Okay, so we're good here, but what else can we be doing?" And really helped me think about trying to push those boundaries and trying new things on our farm.


John Fulton:

When you do use the nitrogen models, I think there's some opportunities there, but again, there's a time commitment and again, can we play and wait? And we have to be willing to, at times going back to this complexity of nitrogen, the challenges we got one year, for example, to your point, was some years where when we came back with the imagery to apply nitrogen, guess what, we didn't apply anything. Whether we had the model there, kind of helping support and having basically as a feedback, but at the end of the day, the most profitable thing to do was not put anything else out there. And that just totally challenges your normal mindset in your normal way of doing this. And so the idea here is when you start to get in as some of the scenarios like you were talking about is you have to be willing to take a little bit more leap of faith because it isn't your traditional way of doing things, right?


John Fulton:

And so, but whether I've not applied or to your point, I do have more opportunity, I could go out and throw X more amount out and do it in this capacity, and I should expect more profitability out of that, that is not a traditional methodology to go through. And so there's not only the time commitment, but you got to be willing to say, "Man, I've got this machine to do this." And we were doing a lot of late season work at that time. We did, I think three years of this. There was a couple of times in there that we just never went back to the field because it didn't call for it, nothing in the algorithms or the imagery said it was going to be profitable to go touch. And it challenged my mind because I've got this machine sitting here that paid how much money for, 300 plus, 1000 plus, I just went out and spent 16,000, we'll say, on y-drops and I'm going to sit it.


John Fulton:

That's what I need to do. So my point, there's opportunities. I think we'll see, as time goes on, simplification of some of this and to make it more simplified to execute out in the field, but it is a different mindset. And I encourage people when they think about nitrogen and maybe thinking about the future and what they may be able to do, you're going to have to think of maybe, you're just going to have to break your traditional mindset and all this to make it work for you.


Morgan Seger:

Yeah. Totally agree. I know we've had lots of people say, "Oh, I've tried that in the past, and it didn't pay." And we had some fields that were corn after corn so we were able to run the scenarios multiple years and it was like, "Oh man, there's a huge economic impact for making the application and you're best to sit out this year." So it really does depend on what the season's telling you.


John Fulton:

Absolutely. Well put.


Morgan Seger:

So do you care if we shift gears back a little bit to the equipment that you were talking about in some of the research you've done, looking at how it's applied and using y-drops or coming in with a spinner box, is that what you were talking about you have some research on?


John Fulton:

Just the framing up, we've had the opportunity to do some placement studies that include using y-drops like at mid-season to late season. Even we did quite a bit of work with some companies on late season a few years ago. Of course, that was a pretty hot topic, once 360 brought those y-drops out, but at the same time I've got a long history and enjoy working with spinner spreaders. And you're seeing more high clearance spinner boxes on basically spare frames that retailers and even some farmers own today, but how do we take advantage of those? And most of the time we're talking about like a urea and it works, we have people. So there's some things we could, if we wanted to start on liquid or dry, it doesn't matter to me.


Morgan Seger:

So either way; I actually saw on Twitter yesterday maybe that someone was doing AMS spread over like V6 corn. Is that something that you see happen often?


John Fulton:

It can. That's a good question that we know what the percentage is. I would say it's not a prevalent practice to do that, but it's increasing over time. Again, we're looking at using a spinner spreader, a dry box spreader to deliver that. So AMS is another thing of course. Sulfur is a big topic. We haven't even touched on that today, but as part of the discussion here, for sure, here in the state of Ohio and even through the Midwest is sulfur and getting 20, 30 pounds out there of that, but back to the spinner spreader, there's two things that are happening for everyone out there and be aware of. Number one, traditionally speaking in the US, we've used companies, New Leader's very common, they're basically highway equipment out of Iowa. In that company, they sell a lot of boxes.


John Fulton:

So if you see a John Deere or RoGator with a box on, likelihood it's going to have a New Leader. There are several other companies out there as well, being used. My point in that is, we have boxes today that whether it's AMS or urea, that can spread a fairly wide pattern. And so it gives us an option especially from mid-season. Most of the sprayers can go through about a V10ish timeframe before they get to pushing and pulling on corn and doing some damage out in the field. But it is an option and I encourage people. Again, it's a little different than you can use it kind of as a sidedress. And AMS is an opportunity to put out at V6. The advantage to that for folks, you can cover a lot more acres in less time than what you can on a sidedress unit. You are surface applying it so we can have that argument, but I think if it's time dried and done in the right timing, it's an opportunity.


John Fulton:

And you're not going to see a difference between putting 28 or 32 out sidedress and coming back and doing a mid-season with urea. I can just, sitting here today, I can think of four people that have chosen to do that route of using an AMS to urea type product to do that starting sidedress late mid-season type application. So they can be efficient in terms of just being out in the field. It can cover more acres in less time. The other thing that I'd like to draw attention to is we're starting to see European companies come into the US. Again, I'm not advocating for anyone, but I'll use KUHN as an example.


John Fulton:

We've had some relationships with them, but KUHN has been selling a spreader for several years, give props to Dave Scheider at Integrated Ag. They were one of the first to buy one, but they're doing that. But my point is, those spreaders are very accurate high spread width type spreaders. Highly engineered, a lot of technology on them to make them work, but it's different. Most of these are three point style spreaders, but it seems like every year you see one or two guys picking them up. And to your point, going to whether it's AMS, a lot of them are just using urea. They're putting sulfur down to the planter and then using urea as a means of getting the balance of their nitrogen down. So I bring that to where it is that you're seeing at least in the state of Ohio, some of these European type, mainly a three point hitch, that's a challenge, right?


John Fulton:

We're used to the spreader box as being on a high clearance machine, but some of our tractors can still give you an opportunity to get over the field at a V6 to V8 type stage, not damage. So that's here and available, but I just draw attention. You're starting to see the European influence starting to move in. And just every year it seems like a few more people pick that idea up and run with it and buy one of those spreaders and transfer, if they hadn't already, from a liquid to a dry for that in-season application.


Morgan Seger:

Do you have a preference or do you think it's pretty, even as long as they're getting the nitrogen on, as far as a liquid, maybe y-drop application versus a spinner box?


John Fulton:

There can be advantages. I would say if you look over time there, you're probably not... It's a big kind of wash, I mean, because so many things it's when you get... What's your rain timing after application, what's your field conditions in terms of soil moisture typically at the time of application, all that in my mind plays a role. But in general, I guess I would state that... I liked the concept of trying to get things placed on it. So I like to get it in. And that minimizes the opportunity. Given that, like I said, in general, if I've got an opportunity and I can delay my nitrogen, like I was talking about earlier, it really gives me a lot of more opportunities to make some adjustments to my nitrogen program as I move further into the season.


John Fulton:

And so those folks may not be doing that yet, but I think that's the next step here. And the future is, can I delay it and get myself into, and then form that I'm going into the season, I say, I want to put 200 units on? Can I get to the point later in the season and say, on average I'm going to drop that for these reasons? Or are you saying, "Man, we're hitting it. The corn's wide open. I mean, it's sitting on off or... The carburetors are wide open and we're going and screaming, and I got to feed this crop because we're setting up for a really good year, so we may need to go a little bit more." My point in all that is we're giving that later season, and regardless if it's sulfur or a y-drop type thing gives you the capacity, I think that gives yourself a little bit more time and then make some adjustments if needed, that's to me the next step in all this, when we think about some of the tools, there's nitrogen models that we were talking about.


Morgan Seger:

Got you. And if anyone's thinking about maybe upgrading equipment and going the y-drop route, is there anything that they should be thinking of or any direction you could maybe point them?


John Fulton:

In terms of where to go or look at information?


Morgan Seger:

Like implications it could have on their operation or things they should be thinking about?


John Fulton:

Well, if you're going to go to y-drop, I think you're setting yourself up to definitely do a mid- to late-season type application. And so again, that's a different timing and you're going to potentially be in early July still applying nitrogen depending on planting date. So I think when you get those kinds of tools, y-drops, you got to take advantage of them, and especially if you're using them on a high clearance machine. What seems to be the bigger question, at least that I've been getting more recently, is at sidedress. I'm upgrading my sidedress unit; do I go with a y-drop where I'm delivering the liquid next to the plant roots, or do I stick with the traditional coulter injection type system?


John Fulton:

That's the bigger, bigger question that we're getting, not using it on a high clearance machine necessarily in a y-drop. It's, you're starting to see guys convert and upgrade their nitrogen toolbars. Do I go with coulter or do I stick with, and that's a good question. Am I going to sit here and say, tell you which one I would do necessarily, because I feel like we'd need just a little bit more information being a little conservative, but there are advantages. I mean, to the coulter, you're injecting that nitrogen, getting in, hopefully, a couple inches in the ground. I think there's an advantage to that. And environmental, per se, we've kind of proven that and minimizing loss.


John Fulton:

The y-drops do place that nitrogen right next to those roots and lets it get absorbed and it's right there versus, typically placing it in between the rows. From a maintenance [standpoint], and we don't have numbers on this, but what we've been trying to look at is, in general, you're going to hear the engineer coming down to me, the more bearings you have on a machine, the more maintenance that you're going to have to do on the machine.


John Fulton:

And so when you think about a coulter, you got bearings and you got as we know, nitrogen loves to be corrosive and work on those kinds of things. And I think most people try and keep things clean and keep them in good working order. But it's still, there's a little bit potentially more maintenance, whereas in a y-drop maintenance wise you're talking about a couple of tubes that are being drugged along the ground. I will say what we did learn when we've been doing this, like on the y-drops, we've got to bring those tubes in because, typically early in the season, you got a short... Kind of talking about V3 to V5, you got a short crop.


John Fulton:

Those tubes can be bouncing a little bit and you don't want to spray some nitrogen up on those leaves. Typically we set those tubes in a little bit more than what we would do in a late season where we're really pushing that nitrogen right next to the roots. So just some thoughts there. I think each one has their advantages. The question is what works for you and who in your area is going to service you and keep you running if you do have some issues or need some parts?


Morgan Seger:

Good. Yeah, I appreciate that. I actually was going to ask about the tubes pushing the corn when it's so young, because I know later in the season, those stalks are pretty sound and you can push up against them. So that makes sense, bring in the angle of those tubes and a little bit, so it doesn't have so much pressure on the plants.


John Fulton:

Yeah. And like I said, you're out in the field and it's not a paved road out there. The ends of those tubes can get to bouncing around. Again, we've had scenarios where we just haven't quite set up, that's on us. You got to set these things up right and pay attention. But like I said, we had scenarios where we had some passes where we had some liquid nitrogen thrown up on the leaves and burn the leaves and we don't want that. So yeah, just something to pay attention to is getting anything that you're using set up for the conditions that you're running.


Morgan Seger:

I think you have given us a lot to think about when it comes to nitrogen and the decisions we're going to be making this season. If anyone wanted to follow along with the research you're doing this year, where would you recommend they go to learn more?


John Fulton:

The primary source, if you really want to look through some of our timing and placement, we've got our eFields, in your search engine, just you can type in Ohio State eFields, E-F-I... just one word eFields. And you can go to the page and see our four reports that we put together. We try and embed all our annual results in that so you can go there. And at the same time, we've got our agronomic crops team website too that has quite a bit of resources as it relates to nitrogen as well. Either one of those are pretty flush with information around nitrogen management.


Morgan Seger:

Okay. Well, I'll be sure to link out to both of those in the show notes and thank you so much for spending this time with us today. I think that was really valuable.


John Fulton:

Yeah. Thanks for the opportunity.


Morgan Seger:

Well, I'm so grateful that you tuned in to another episode of Precision Points and thanks to John for spending that hour with us to really dive deep into what we can be doing to manage it differently. You can access the Agronomics Crop Network that he mentioned at agcrops.osu.edu. And we've talked about eFields before, but if you are new to the podcast and you want to check out the data that you can get through the eFields book, digitalag.osu.edu, and you can access all of the information right there on that site. As always, show notes from this episode will be available at precisionagreviews.com. And while you're there, check out our grower-sourced reviews. We have a database of information from growers, just like you, who logged in and left us a review on a product or service that they've been using in this precision ag industry. We also have a new feature. You can now go in and like the reviews that are similar to things that you would have said. So make sure you check that out and let us know what you think. Until next time, this has been the Precision Points Podcast. Let's grow together.


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