A nitrogen top dress can make financial sense for canola if:
—Growing conditions improve after seeding. If conditions were too wet or too dry at the time of seeding, growers may have cut back fertilizer rates in response to lower yield projections. If conditions improve in June and a good stand emerges, growers may see a yield benefit from a nitrogen top up. In dry conditions, applying 66% of the recommended nitrogen rate at seeding then topping up with remaining 34% if conditions improve has shown to be an effective and economical practice.
—Saturated soils impede good seed placement. This expands on the previous point. When the only choices to get canola seeded are mudding in or broadcast, cutting back nitrogen rates at seeding may be a good risk management practice. Handling less fertilizer at seeding may help facilitate better seed placement. It may also put a smaller proportion of the fertilizer at risk for significant nutrient losses and allow assessment of stand establishment and crop potential before applying the balance of the fertilizer. If the crop becomes well established, an investment in more nitrogen fertilizer would be warranted.
—Saturated soils impede good root growth. After a wet spring, plants may be able to reach leached nitrogen as their root systems fully develop, but canola in fields with excess moisture may not develop the root system to reach that far. If roots have been growing to the side and there is no dominant tap root, then the tap root is unlikely to develop fully. Lateral roots may start to turn downward as the top layer dries, but they may not have the reach of a good tap root. In this case, a top dress of nitrogen may help the crop — as long as good growing conditions have returned.
—High nitrogen losses are likely. Wet soil conditions can accelerate nitrogen losses through leaching and denitrification. Fields may need a nitrogen top up to reach their yield potential, but make sure canola survived the wet conditions before investing in a fertilizer top up. (Note: In general, permanent nitrogen losses due to volatilization, denitrification and leaching are quite low for nitrogen applied at the time of seeding on Prairie soils.)
—The crop is showing signs of nitrogen deficiency. Nitrogen deficiency symptoms first show up in older leaves as pale green to yellow coloring, and sometimes purpling. Tissue analysis can confirm these observations, but tissue analysis is not an exact science. Sampling error can be a problem. Many labs offer tissue samples, so check with the lab for proper sampling procedures. Turn around time is another hurdle. Growers should sample as early as possible to get results in time to take action.
—A grower cannot efficiently place all the fertilizer needed through the seeding tool. Some growers will address this with a top dress application of nitrogen after crop emergence, which can reduce potential for losses if tillage practices do not allow for broadcast and incorporation prior to seeding. If time and logistics are factors, hiring someone to broadcast nitrogen just before seeding may be the preferred over an in-crop top dress.
When to top up:
The earlier the better, and before the 4- to 6-leaf stage of the crop. This is pre-bolting stage just before buds form and plants begin to elongate. For canola, maximum rates of nitrogen uptake occur from about the 5-leaf stage to full bloom. (See the graph on the right.) Nitrogen must be applied well before that period because rainfall is required to move the fertilizer into the root zone and make it available for uptake. Nitrogen applied later — during peak uptake — will not get to the roots in time to contribute to yield or profit unless it rains immediately after.
What nitrogen source to use:
Nitrogen options for in crop application are urea (dry), UAN (liquid) or ammonium sulphate (if sulphur shortages are also expected.)
UAN dribbled on the surface is less prone to losses than dry urea broadcast on the surface, but both surface applications require rain soon after application to move the fertilizer into the soil and limit volatilization losses. The key for UAN is that it reach the soil surface. UAN applied in no-till situations with high trash cover can be absorbed by the residue and be unavailable to the crop. This fertilizer is not lost. Top-dressed nitrogen immobilized in high residue fields may serve to promote mineralization cycling in lower layers of residue, so while the applied nitrogen may not be available, it helps to increase the available pool.
Agrotain will reduce volatilization losses for surface applied urea and UAN. It will not reduce immobilization losses.
Ammonium sulphate is less volatile than urea and, in general, will not lose nitrogen as quickly when surface applied. However, losses from ammonium sulphate can be higher in calcareous soils. Ammonium sulphate reacts with the calcium carbonate (CaCO3), and releases free ammonia that is subject to volatilization.
ESN is not recommended for post seeding applications because its slow-release feature may not release the nitrogen in time to produce an economical crop yield response.
If using granular, apply when leaves are dry to make sure prills roll off onto the ground and don’t cause leaf burn.
If using liquid, the ideal is to apply when leaves are moist from early dew or a light rain so liquid nitrogen fertilizer runs off quickly. Applying when hot and dry can increase absorption of liquid into the plant, increasing the amount of burn. Consider adding some extra water to the tank in these conditions if waiting is not an option.
How much to apply:
At least 20% of the target nitrogen rate is recommended. For example, if the goal is to apply 100 lb./ac. of actual nitrogen, the top dress should be at least 20 lb./ac. and probably 30-40 lb./ac. to make it meaningful. Remember, a nitrogen top up will extend canola’s vegetative period and delay maturity. Consider the calendar date and fall frost risk in addition to potential yield benefits when making a nitrogen top up decision.
Growers may need to top dress up to 30 pounds per acre of actual nitrogen to see a noticeable improvement with the naked eye, but yield differences for rates lower than that may show up at harvest.
Broadcast spreading of urea or surface dribble banding of UAN are the most common and fastest methods. But these methods can also result in the highest losses if rain doesn’t come quickly. (Losses with UAN tend to be lower than with urea.) Agrotain helps to minimize these losses.
Fertilizer placement in the soil, as opposed to on the surface, greatly minimizes losses from volatilization and immobilization and enhances overall nitrogen fertilizer recovery. This may be difficult to achieve in practice because spoke wheel applicators are hard to find and newer inter-row applicators are not very common.
Tank mixing liquid nitrogen with herbicide and applying through the sprayer is not recommended for a few reasons. This method can provide only a few pounds of actual nitrogen per acre — which isn’t enough to make a difference. Leaf (foliar) applications are highly inefficient, as plants take up nutrients through their roots. (The expression “One pound through the leaf is worth 10 pounds through the soil” is not true logically. If it were, you could produce a 50-bushel canola crop on 10 pounds of N through the leaf, which is impossible.) Finally, fertilizer blanket applied over the leaves can damage the crop.
A variable rate applicator using GreenSeeker is a high tech option. GreenSeeker uses an electric eye to estimate crop biomass, yield potential and crop nutrient requirements. The sensors can be attached to a nitrogen applicator and provide continuous and instantaneous readings for variable rate applications.
“Spoon-feeding” Nitrogen. Using many small applications through the uptake period is routine in potatoes (it is called fertigation), but this not economically efficient for canola in Western Canada. That’s because (1) multiple applications add to the cost, (2) nitrogen applied into the soil early in the season is generally most efficient and in-place as the crop needs it, and (3) weather variability through the season add to the risk that the job won’t get done. An exception is if N losses have been high (or the crop underfertilized). In those cases, in-crop applications may be warranted.
As Manitoba Agriculture fertility specialist John Heard says, multiple in-season fertilizer applications can work for a long-season crop like corn if you have irrigation when it is dry and tile drainage for when it is wet. “There is simply not enough opportunities to intervene in a crop like canola or cereals,” he says. He adds that in corn, in-crop applications are banded into the soil between the rows. They are not top-applied with a sprayer.
Peak sulphur uptake for canola occurs later than peak nitrogen uptake, so a sulphur top up can occur a little later than nitrogen top up. Post-emergence sulphur can be applied up to early flowering and still provide a yield benefit, however earlier remedies of a deficiency will provide greater yield potential.
When doing an in-crop application, growers could target only those areas — such as hill tops — that tend to be sulphur deficient.
A sulphur top dress can make financial sense for canola if:
—Growers could not put the desired rate on at seeding.
—Yield potential improved and growers want to add sulphur to their nitrogen top up. If field conditions have been excessively moist, sulphur may have moved lower in the soil profile. As canola plants grow, their roots will extend into these reserves. For that reason, growers who have been applying recommended rates of sulphur may not see as much economic return from a sulphur top up compared to a grower who has cut sulphur rates in recent years.
—Canola shows signs of sulphur deficiency. With sulphur deficiency, yellowing and leaf cupping tend to occur on new leaves first. Purpling of leaf edges can show up when deficiency is fairly severe. (Top photo on the left.) In fields short of sulphur, crops can usually find enough to get past the early rosette stage without visible symptoms. Deficiency symptoms often show up at flowering. (Scroll to the bottom of this article for more photos of sulphur deficiency symptoms.)
When to apply:
The earlier the better, but sulphur can be applied up to early flowering and still provide a yield benefit.
What sulphur source to use:
Ammonium sulphate (dry) or ammonium thiosulphate (liquid) provides sulphur that is immediately available to the crop. It also provides a nitrogen top up at the same time.
Elemental sulphur applied at the time of seeding or later will not be available in time for when the crop needs it, especially if it is incorporated. Elemental sulphur prills need time to break apart to increase the surface area, and then require bacteria to oxidize the sulphur into plant available form. These bacteria are most active in warm moist soils. It can take months for elemental sulphur to become available to the crop.
Also note that any sulphate made available from the oxidation of elemental sulphur applied last fall may have leached down into the soil profile if fields were wet last fall and this spring, potentially delaying availability to the crop this year.
How much to apply:
That depends on how much deficiency you expect. As few as 10 to 20 pounds of actual sulphur may be enough to provide an economic benefit, but higher levels may also provide a good return on investment if the soil is very deficient.
Application just prior to rainfall is best. Surface applied ammonium sulphate requires rain to move it into the root zone. Sulphur is not volatile like nitrogen fertilizer, so while dry conditions may delay availability to the crop, losses will be minimal if rain is not immediately forecast. Avoid spreading granular product when the leaves are moist from dew to limit sticking of the prills and leaf burn as a result.
If dribble banding liquid ammonium sulphate (8-0-0-9) or ammonium thiosulphate (12-0-0-26), keep in mind that damage from leaf burn tends to be more severe when canola is smaller than the 5-leaf stage. Applying when leaf surfaces are wet can allow liquid to run off and limit this damage.
Applying sulphate fertilizer in a tank mix with herbicide/fungicide may not provide enough sulphur to provide a benefit to the crop. Also, flat fan sprays that cover the leaf are far more toxic to the crop than fertilizer dribbled on the soil surface. Plus, the crop can’t take up much fertilizer through the leaves.
PHOSPHORUS TOP DRESS RARELY EFFECTIVE
Phosphorus needs to be in the soil and as close to the seed as possible for maximum benefit. Canola plants continue to take up phosphorus as biomass increases, but phosphorus fertilizer tends to provide its greatest economic benefit very early in the season. As the soil warms up, phosphorus conversion in the soil increases and the crop can tap into existing phosphorus reserves. Unless the soil is very deficient in phosphorus, growers are unlikely to see an economic benefit from an in-crop application.
(Source – http://www.canolawatch.org/2016/06/08/top-dress-tips-for-nitrogen-and-sulphur/)