Pat Breen doesn’t believe in fall fertilizing – ever. He doesn’t believe in any unnecessary trips across a field, either. It’s all about being fast and efficient on his 6,000-acre Seneca, SD, operation.

“With no-till I want to make one trip across a field at planting and that’s it,” says Breen, who has no-tilled since 1988.

And he’s been able to accomplish that now for three years since moving to a 60-ft. wide Horsch Anderson air seeder equipped with an Exactrix fertilizing system.

The entire setup stretches 110 ft. from bumper to tailgate and consists of a John Deere 9630 pulling the 48-shank air-seeder followed by a 500-bu. air cart that then pulls a homemade fertilizer cart. The cart holds two, 1,000 gal. anhydrous ammonia tanks and two 750-gal. liquid fertilizer tanks. No saddle tanks are attached to the tractor.

“All the equipment,” Breen says, “tracks between rows and never directly on a row.” The fertilizer cart travels on 27-in wide tracks and when fully loaded weighs 40,000 lbs.

The air cart has three hoppers, and he uses two of the bins for two different corn hybrids. The third is used for potash. The front tank holds 175 bu., the middle 75 bu. and the back 250 bu.

“I can plant 400 acres without refilling with corn, but I do have to refill the ammonia every 100 acres,” Breen says. “I can plant about 40 acres an hour in a twin-row pattern on 30-in. centers. The rows are 7-1/2 in. apart and planted in a staggered, zigzag pattern. A standard 12-row corn head works fine by pushing the paired rows together. It’s been trouble-free.”

The big savings with this setup, Breen claims, comes from the Exactrix system where he’s able to accurately apply a mixture of 10-34-00 and 12-00-00-S26 (liquid ammonium thiosulfate). This mixture gets applied at 13 gal./acre. He also applies 100 lbs./acre of anhydrous ammonia at the same time directly behind the liquid to create tri-ammonium polyphosphate sulfate (TAPPS), which helps stabilize the anhydrous.

TAPPS is a crystalline product that forms a continuous, concentrated band of fertility with a pH of approximately 8.5, according to Guy Swanson, developer of the Exactrix system. “Roots feed out of that band, and it minimizes the effect of variations in soil pH and organic matter. Those pockets of low yields that show up on a yield monitor tend to disappear,” he says.

Exactrix injects anhydrous ammonia as a liquid. The benefit is accurate, uniform lineal application rates that allow farmers to reduce nitrogen (N) rates.

“Half of our fertilizer goes in the row and half between the row,” Breen explains. “Between the rows is like sidedressing so as corn gets taller, the roots go toward the center of the row to use the N.” In-row fertilizer is applied 4 in. below the seed. 

“I’ve been able to get by with 40% less fertilizer with this precision placement,” he says.

Breen applies 100 lbs. of N/acre, shooting for 165-bu./acre corn yields. He uses GPS soil sampling divided into 20-acre zones. “The beauty of this is that I can make any prescription the soil test calls for – dry, liquid or anhydrous,” he says.

Breen says this setup allows him to do a third more acres in the same time than his previous 47-ft. Concord planter, which he used for 10 years.

“Everything we use now was new two years ago,” Breen says. “We’re also set up so that almost all the Exactrix equipment is on the trailer, not on the seeder. That way we can easily unhook it and put it in the shed.”

Not everyone is sold on the Exactrix system benefits, however. “Right now we don’t have any universities that have researched it,” says George Rehm, retired fertilizer specialist from the University of Minnesota. “The chemical combinations are correct, but when you put it in the soil does it really make a difference because of ion uptake,” he asks.

“We can reduce phosphate use by 40% if banded compared to broadcast regardless of source of phosphate and placement of the band. And to get this efficiency, it’s not necessary to use the Exactric system,” Rehm says.

He goes on to explain that farmers can reduce N application as a consequence of new genetics. “We’ve gone from 1.25 lbs. of N/bu. of corn to 0.6 lbs., but this reduction can be used regardless of the method of nitrogen application. Also, most of the metering equipment on anhydrous ammonia applicators today provides for a more uniform application.”

Phil and Mike Goff liked the whole idea of TAPPS for sidedressing N, especially since some of their west-central Minnesota soils are light and sandy and leaching is a problem. The benefit of TAPPS is that it doesn’t leach, says Phil. The Goffs runs 10 center-pivot systems besides non-irrigated acres at Benson.

In 2009 the Goffs bought a 65-ft. toolbar from B&H Manufacturing made from 7-in. x 7-in. x ¼-in. tubing. Then they added the Exactrix 22-in. single coulters and Exactrix metering system. The bar ran $40,000, coulters $50,000 and the Exactrix anhydrous and liquid system for TAPPS came in at $114,000.

“We’d been sidedressing liquid 28% N on 12-in. corn for the last few years, but it had gotten more and more expensive – usually 10-20% more than anhydrous,” Phil says. “The TAPPS system is what really sold it for us because we could save 20-30¢/lb. on N.”

But as Phil puts it: “Things in farming change all the time.” So currently with anhydrous prices climbing as high as 28% N, they’ve changed their plans.

“We’re now split applying our fertilizer. This fall we will fall-apply TAPPS and then we’ll come back and sidedress the last 50 lbs. of N when the corn is 6-12 in. tall with 28% N,” he says.

The Goffs also replaced the coulters with standard anhydrous knives because Phil says “they just work better.”

The Goffs have 1,000 gal. saddle tanks on the tractor for liquid fertilizer and pull a 1,450-gal. anhydrous trailer.

The high anhydrous pressure is what gives it accuracy, Phil says. The system has a separate anhydrous and liquid pump and also a separate tube for each that then flows to individual knives. The 10-34-0 and amonium thyosulfate when combined with the anhydrous crystallize the N for better use by plants and soil, he says.

“We’ve really cut back on our N rates with this system. Plus, we get very even application compared to regular anhydrous systems,” Phil says.