Spring Applied Fertilizers are the Most Profitable Option for Illinois Farmers

Peter Metivier

Nov 11, 2022  |  Today's News |  ICMB |  Conservation |  Precision Conservation Management

Fall-applied nitrogen is not the most profitable nitrogen timing for Illinois farmers according to Precision Conservation Management (PCM) data published in June 2021. Compared to other nitrogen application options, ‘Mostly Preplant’ and ‘Mostly Sidedress’ are both more profitable than fall-applied nitrogen. (See table below.)


With fertilizer prices at an all time high, now is the time for farmers to consider reducing overall nitrogen application to MRTN rates and moving to a spring-applied system to maximize profitability and environmental impact.


However, considering current nitrogen limitations such as price, sourcing, availability, and others, farmers might be challenged to utilize spring-time application in 2023.

corn nitrogen timing


PCM Director Greg Goodwin, commented, “We recognize the difficulty making the transition to a more regular spring application on your operation, but those who have made the switch are seeing great gains not only in their profitability, but also in their environmental impact.”


If farmers are faced with no other option than to fall apply, PCM data strongly recommends that farmers apply according to the MRTN and closely follow these guidelines outlined in this University of Illinois’ FarmDoc article:


1: No fall application on light or very heavy-textured soil.

2: No application at soil temperatures above 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

3: No fall application in regions without cold winters, including southern Illinois


No matter what your plan of action is for applying fertilizer this growing season, the current environmental and economic climate is signaling that farmers plan for spring application for the coming years.


PCM data also reports that the most profitable farms in the dataset are never applying over the MRTN and most have a Nitrogen Use Efficiency (NUE) of less than .85 pounds of nitrogen per bushel of corn.


For more information on PCM or their data, click here.


Nafziger, E. "Is Fall a Good Time to Apply Nitrogen?" Department of Crop Sciences, University of Illinois, September 30, 2020.