Weather fails to slow nitrogen application on wheat

A little thing like nine inches of rain over two weeks didn’t keep Steven Welsh from his work in the wheat field.

Down to the wire on the 2003 wheat crop —I n fact, two to three weeks behind schedule because of excessive rainfall this winter and early spring — the Bishopville, S.C., diversified producer used a track machine designed for work in a rock quarry to glide over the soggy fields and get the second split application of nitrogen on the fields.

Welsh is familiar with being innovative when Mother Nature displays her fickle side.

Three or four years ago, he and a group of three farmers rigged up a Polaris ATV with a tank and boom to go where no tractor dare tread and apply nitrogen to rain-soaked fields. Welsh gets technical and material support from Helena Chemical Company of Mayesville, S.C.

"Everybody’s in this same shape," Welsh said, stepping up and down on the saturated soil. "This should have been a rice crop the way the water was standing in the fields. This was borne out of necessity and it’s working pretty good."

His son, William, was operating the rig through soggy wheat fields. He was applying 25 pounds of nitrogen per acre in a tank-mix with 2,4D. The Yanmar rig, which Welsh leased from an upstate tractor company, is actually a small dump truck with tracks on it. The machine is used in rock quarries. Welsh mounted a 425-gallon tank and a pump on the dump body, along with 50-foot booms. His son was gliding on the water at 5 mph in late March.

"We’ve got to get the nitrogen out somehow," Welsh says. "This machine doesn’t leave a lot of ruts, so we’re not going to have to deal with that problem when we plant behind the wheat. We’ve yet to find a spot we couldn’t go through."

Welsh leased the machine for his own 600 acres, but has applied nitrogen for neighbors after they saw the machine in action. "We started a week ago, and we’ve done about 1,000 acres and we still have a little more than 1,000 acres to do for neighbors."

Beginning last fall, excessive rains have soaked fields and made fieldwork difficult. Welsh is about two to three weeks behind in planting corn.

Like many wheat producers in the upper Southeast, Welsh splits the application of nitrogen, usually in January and early March. While he was able to get the first application of nitrogen on the wheat, the rains would have prevented him from getting the second shot of nitrogen to the crop — had it not been for the innovative turn.

"Some farmers apply the nitrogen by airplane, but it’s hard to get the small corners of the field by airplane," Welsh says.

By using the track machine, the only ruts came at the end of the field when the rig was turning around.

Welsh sees the nitrogen application as a rescue method. "I know the yields are going to be below average, but how much lower I don’t know. Without the nitrogen, the yield would be much lower."

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