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Polymer-Coated Urea Boosts Strip-Tilled Sugarbeets

Using polymer-coated urea can help sugarbeet growers gain the benefits of fall strip-till for seed by preparation, while not losing nitrogen, research by USDA scientists in North Dakota shows.

Advantages of fall strip-tillage for sugarbeets includes a wider window of time to perform tillage when soil conditions are favorable, and a finer seedbed resulting from soil settling and improved soil structure due to the freezing and thawing.

A disadvantage is that nitrogen fertilizer is applied early in the fall, increasing the potential for the movement of nitrogen before planting, especially in sandy-textured soils. Controlled-release urea may offer an economical solution to this problem by delaying the dissolution and dispersion of urea-nitrogen.

A field study was conducted in 2008 at the North Dakota State University-USDA Mon-Dak Irrigation Research and Development Project in western North Dakota. Irrigation is by a linear-move sprinkler system.

Strip-tillage, including fertilizer application, was performed in the fall with uncoated urea applied at 210 pounds per acre to 18 rows in each plot and polymer-coated urea (ESN; Agrium, Inc.) was applied at 218 lbs per acre to six rows in each plot. Fertilizer was banded 3 inches directly below the seed row.

Mid-season plant samples and harvest samples were collected. In 2008, mid-season plant dry matter was 12% greater with ESN than with urea. Nitrogen concentration did not differ significantly, but ESN produced a narrower top carbon-nitrogen ratio (7.14) as compared to urea (7.45). Nitrogen uptake was 15% greater with ESN than with urea through early summer.

The yield was 3.1 tons per acre greater with ESN than with urea, but root sucrose content was 0.46 % lower with ESN. Despite these offsetting effects, ESN still produced 723 pounds more gross sucrose per acre than urea.

In 2009, there were no significant differences observed between the two fertilizer treatments. Results suggest that ESN may provide an advantage over uncoated urea in strip till sugarbeet production where fall strip tillage is practiced.

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