Applying N to tall corn: Experimenting with the Y-drop system

The Y-drop system may offer farmers more flexibility in their nitrogen management on corn.

Y-drop system.
Y-drop system.

In 2015, many Michigan farmers had problems with timely sidedressing nitrogen (N) to corn. Some fields were too wet to operate machinery from late-May to mid-July. Those who applied most of their N at planting likely lost a substantial portion due to denitrification and leaching. The traditional sidedress application in mid-June at V6 stage was not practical this year. As a result, corn grew too tall for existing sidedress equipment. When this happens, what options are available to growers to supply additional N?

Most growers do not have irrigation facilities. When plants get to about 5 feet, you will need high clearance ground equipment to drive through the corn field. Another consideration is that N solutions should not be applied directly on the leaves as this will cause excess foliage burn. Producers may consider aerial application of urea. Urea granules falling into the whorl also causes leaf burn, so this is not a common practice in Michigan.

Farmers have been looking for satisfactory ways to extend the N sidedress window. Research has shown that modern hybrids with healthier and robust root and stalk systems are more effective in utilizing N for grain production (grain yield per unit of N applied) compared to older hybrids. One bushel of corn is being produced, on average, with 0.8 pounds of N. Refer to pages 10-13 of the Michigan State University Extension bulletin E2904, “Nutrient Recommendations for Field Crops in Michigan,” for more information and the current MSU recommendations for corn.

A new tool that is available to extend the N application window is the Y-drop system. This is a high clearance sprayer system equipped with a combination of metal and rubber hoses that delivers N solution directly to the soil surface. Nitrogen solution is applied close to the base of the stem without touching the canopy.

Y-drop system being filled
Filling the Y-drop system.

Y-drop appears to be a versatile nutrient placement system that can offer flexibility in timing of N application. Farmers can split their N application two or three times during the season if necessary. Also, other nutrients can be applied with N. The spray height is adjustable to suit the crop. It is available for 20-inch and 30-inch row systems and is programmable to apply variable rates.

Y-drop system in a corn field
Y-drop system in a corn field.

In 2015, the Michigan Corn Marketing Program funded a preliminary study in Eaton County to test the potential use of this system. Local farmers interested in additional information are encouraged to contact Gary Parr, PM Precision Planting Services, 4557 Wheaton Road, Charlotte, MI 48813, at 517-231-1987.

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