Having equipment that allows you to apply nitrogen (N) late in the season is well worth having — even if you don’t use it every year, says Clay Mitchell, Buckingham, Ia.

“Adding late-season N can be like putting on a booster rocket for corn production in a wet year, when it’s needed,” says Mitchell, who farms approximately 2,800 corn and soybean acres with his great-uncle Philip near Waterloo, Ia. “In dry years, you can save a lot of money by holding off on early-season N applications that don’t pay off.”

Mitchell’s strategy is to apply N in a way that ensures little, if any, will be wasted. “Typically, we split-apply anhydrous ammonia N applications,” he says. “We start with some preplant and then apply more as an early sidedress. If it’s been warm and wet, like last year, we use our high-clearance sprayer to apply a third N application.”

In 2011, Clay’s dad, Wade, helped equip the farm’s John Deere 4700 self-propelled sprayer with drop tubes that ensures the Mitchells can safely apply urea ammonium nitrate (UAN) to corn up until tasseling stage. They welded oval, stainless-steel screw-thread links to the spray boom where they could hang chains connected to 5-ft. stainless-steel tubes that attach to the nozzle couplers.

“Having the tubes hang on the chains makes it easier to take the tubes on and off,” Mitchell says. “The drop-nozzle tubes get the UAN product closer to the roots, so they don’t burn the leaves.”

For farmers who use sprayers with drop tubes to apply liquid N, the tubes need to be long enough to go well below the ear, says Peter Scharf, University of Missouri Extension soil specialist. “Avoid spraying the ears or the leaves near the ears, or you’ll hurt yields, not help them,” he advises. “Farmers should also avoid broadcasting UAN solution on corn larger than the V7 growth stage.”