Faster, easier, safer — and less power. It's for those reasons that Wood River, NE, farmer Kenny Layher converted his 13-knife anhydrous ammonia rig to a 16-row liquid fertilizer applicator.

The benefits more than outweigh the higher cost of nitrogen (N) in solution vs. that of anhydrous ammonia, Layher says.

He farms in a groundwater quality management area, where potential for nitrate leaching to the groundwater is high. Regulations prohibit fall preplant N applications. Instead, he's required to delay N application on his irrigated corn until after March 1 to shorten the time between N application and crop uptake.

The converted applicator helps Layher run that race. Instead of pulling a 30-ft., 13-knife anhydrous rig at 5-6 mph, Layher now zips over his corn acres at 10-12 mph, pulling a 40-ft. rig with 16 nozzles, each sending a solid stream of 32% N solution at 60 psi into slots cut by 22-in. rippled coulters 6 in. off the old rows.

Converting his anhydrous rig to a liquid applicator “wasn't that big a deal,” Layher says. His Orthman toolbar, with 13 anhydrous ammonia knives on 30-in. centers, was lengthened to carry 16 nozzles on 30-in. centers. That required adding 4 ft. at the middle of the main toolbar and 1½ ft. to each toolbar wing.

Wider applicator width and higher field speed are a couple of the ways this central Nebraska irrigator capitalizes on the lower power requirement for applying N in solution. There's also the fuel savings.

Although brackets were available for mounting applicator nozzles behind 20-in. coulters, he had to have mounting brackets specially made for the Orthman 22-in. coulters he retained from his anhydrous version. He wanted to keep those coulters, because their sealed bearings are easy to change if they fail.

The same applicator hitch for towing anhydrous ammonia nurse tanks now handles a towed Yetter all-wheel-steer chassis (for shorter turns at the end of the field) carrying a 1,600-gal. liquid fertilizer tank. “The nice thing about this,” Layher says, “is you don't have to unhook every time, as you do with an anhydrous tank. And, you're not having to haul 1,500-gal. anhydrous ammonia tanks up and down the road.”

Instead, his local ag cooperative delivers the N solution in a 5,000-gal. tanker into an old 6,000-gal., stainless steel milk tanker truck that Layher bought. He parks the old milk tanker in the field where he's applying fertilizer and refills the nurse tank from the tanker.

A sight gauge on the side of his old milk tanker lets Layher know when there's room to take the next 5,000-gal. delivery of N solution from the co-op. The old tanker trailer doesn't require a fertilizer containment setup to protect against spills, according to Layher.

In a rear compartment that used to house milk transfer equipment, Layher added an engine-powered pumping unit. He can fill the 1,600-gal. nurse tank in under 10 minutes.

Most of Layher's corn is ridge-tilled, where he plants on the row ridge after fall passes with a stalk shredder and a root cutter with canted disks that undercut roots 3 in. on either side of the old stalk butts. Layher places the N solution 6 in. to the side of the old row in his ridge-till corn.

With an application rate of around 22.5 gal. of N solution/acre equaling about 80 lbs. of N/acre, the nurse tank carries about 70 acres' worth of N.

The 80-lb. rate is the calculated amount of additional N needed to achieve Layher's yield goal after taking into account N available in the irrigation water and from soil sources, as required under the groundwater management area rules.

Layher has been putting on 10-34-0 with the planter, but says he has thought about replacing that application by having the co-op add liquid 10-34-0 to his March N solution application.

A ground-driven John Blue piston pump provides the 60 psi pressure to his N solution applicator. A pressure gauge mounted just outside his tractor cab window lets Layher monitor pressure at a glance. He doesn't want to risk not catching any pressure problems immediately.

“I know that N solution costs a little more,” Layher says. “But, we don't have much time.” He also values its safety factor versus anhydrous ammonia.