Hans Block grows 4,000 acres of continuous corn — much of it to feed his hogs — and likes to do it with dispatch. To clear the decks for early spring planting, he and his crew have been chisel plowing in the fall and applying anhydrous ammonia with a nitrification inhibitor in a second fall trip. Then in the spring they hit the ground once with a field cultivator — and three hours later they plant.

But they've had one heckuva lot of ground to cover in the fall between harvest and when the ground freezes. “With continuous corn we need to work the ground before we apply the anhydrous,” Block points out. “Then we need to wait for some rain to settle the soil before we can get a good seal on the anhydrous.”

Block, who farms at Knoxville, IL, (and is the son of former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture John Block) wanted to come up with a way to combine fall chiseling and fertilizing into one trip. So he sought out Lee Steele, equipment manager at his local fertilizer supplier, Crop Production Services (CPS), Galesburg, IL. Steele is one of those gifted farmer-inventor guys with a genius for looking at a machinery challenge and coming up with a solution.

Long story short, Steele linked a DMI seven-shank chisel plow with an anhydrous toolbar. There are eight injector shanks on the bar, six in the middle that give a full shot of NH3 and two outside shanks. Each applies a half shot. The rig is pulled with a 450 hp tractor.

Steele rigged a second, smaller unit whereby the anhydrous goes through lines attached to five chisel plow shanks. It's pulled by a 350 hp tractor.

Both anhydrous applicators are equipped with a Hiniker 8150 anhydrous ammonia control system that provides uniform application of the NH3. It adjusts for ground speed and other variables that can cause inaccurate application.

For more specifics on these units, call Steele at 309-343-1419.

“Based on numbers we've seen, it costs about $7.50/acre to apply anhydrous in a single pass,” Block says. “By doing two jobs in one pass, we figure we saved enough on fuel, machinery and labor in the first year to pay for a second chisel plow.

“We were also much more timely,” says Block. “At one point last fall we had finished 3,000 acres of chiseling and applying anhydrous in the same time we would have finished about 500 acres with the old two-pass system. That's due primarily to the fact we didn't have the normal delay between the two operations.”

Fall N Fallout

Many farmers, especially those with lots of corn acres, apply anhydrous ammonia in the fall to reduce the spring workload and allow for earlier planting. Yet some university fertilizer specialists call it inefficient economics.

“First and foremost, nitrogen losses can occur,” says Ohio State's Robert Mullen. “The economic implications can be great, plus it also poses an environmental risk.”

Losses can be due to leaching — confined to cooler weather — or denitrification, which usually occurs during wet springs.

Nitrification inhibitors can help reduce losses of NH3, but aren't cheap, Mullen says. They run upwards of $7/acre.