The dry vs liquid conundrum, which is right for you?
There is an ongoing debate whether UAN 28% is better than Urea or Amidas when managing nitrogen in SRWW and HRWW. For a long time, UAN 28% has been considered the best product to produce a strong wheat crop. In recent years equipment technology has improved significantly allowing producers to incorporate some form of granular nitrogen source back into their wheat program. Both products have their place but there are other factors that need to be considered before deciding which product is right for you.
- Cost per unit of nitrogen
- Product availability
- Equipment availability/capacity
- Application timing
Depending when purchased, UAN is generally very close or slightly more expensive than Urea on a $/lb basis. UAN is a very nice product to work with and allows for uniform application of nitrogen. When using a sprayer, there is a large selection of streamer nozzles and streamer bars. Streamer bars work well because they produce larger droplets reducing the risk of leaf burn. The ability to run in the same wheel tracks throughout the growing season significantly reduces crop damage.
The biggest downfall with UAN is the ability to push nitrogen applications later in the season when targeting the “Protein Push” window. Once the flag leaf starts to emerge, UAN should not be used as the risk for burn is too great. Results from our Black Creek Research program have shown up to a 5bu/ac decrease in yield when UAN is applied at the flag leaf stage.
Equipment availability and capacity during the second application can be challenging as sprayers are usually tied up with corn pre emerge herbicide application at this time.
For many years, growers would tow a “pull type’ spreader through their fields on 40-50ft centers. Does this get the job done? Yes! However, the result is noticeable tramp across the field and poor spread patterns leaving more to be desired. Even though urea is generally less expensive per unit of N, this turned a lot of growers off the notion of using urea thus switching to UAN. Floaters then came along with air booms or spinner boxes which was a significant improvement over the pull type spreader. However, these machines are heavy and depending on soil type and ground conditions wheel tracks can persist throughout the field through the growing season.
As equipment evolves and manufactures adapt to what growers are looking for, the technology available to apply granular products now is incredible. There are some airflow booms spanning 120ft and spinner spreaders that can accurately match this span. This is a game changer because instead of applying on 40-70ft centers, this equipment can now match the sprayer boom and travel in the same tracks significantly reducing wheel traffic.
One of the greatest gains to wheat production utilizing this new application technology is protein building. Applications can now be made well into the flag leaf stage using Amidas with minimal crop injury and no additional wheel tracks. Our research has shown a consistent gain up to 15bu/ac and up to 2% gain in protein in hard red wheat.
The downfall of urea can be poor quality product with lots of fines which can result in poor distribution. Depending on application rates, application time can be slower due to the volume of product needed.
There is no “one size fits all” approach as every operation is different. Determine your yield and protein goals, nitrogen budget and equipment capability and pick a product or combination of products that will achieve those goals while providing a positive return on investment. Great wheat can be produced using either product!