Managing Nitrogen During the Season

There's a whole lot of corn in the world—over 400 million acres—and it all grows tall fast. As it's growing, farmers are challenged to supply key nutrients efficiently—especially nitrogen. Why? The corn gets tall so fast that it's hard to match fertilizer applications to the needs of the plants.

Timing is important because nitrogen is easily lost during periods of heavy rain. Applying nitrogen near the time it will be used by a rapidly growing crop makes the most sense.

The problem facing many growers is that a rapidly growing crop, mixed with uncertain field conditions, leads to situations where in-season applications of nitrogen (often called "side-dressing") cannot be carried out as planned. Constraints and worries linked to crop height keep many growers from using in-season nitrogen management, a widely recognized best practice.

Seeding Cover Crops Before the Corn Harvest

Enthusiasm for using cover crops in combination with growing corn is growing steadily by the day. These crops are used to keep the soil covered through the fall, winter, and early spring. They contribute to building soil health, keeping excess nitrogen on the field until the following growing season, and fighting compaction. Recent USDA survey data are pointing to higher yields for cash crops that follow a cover crop planting.

The problem facing growers who want to use cover crops with corn is that there is typically a very short growing window after the late fall corn harvest. Progressive growers are trying out a variety of methods to get cover crops seeded in late August and September, after the corn is mature but before it is harvested. Seeding then can extend the growing window for cover crops by a month or more. However, there aren't reliable, cost-effective methods today to seed cover crops into standing corn that can approach 10 feet tall.