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Wait For It: Not Yet the ‘Right Time’ for Fall Fertilizer

Farmers are urged to wait to apply anhydrous ammonia until the maximum daily soil temperature is 50 degrees and trending downward. Harvest is wrapping up, but unseasonably warm temperatures mean farmers should not start anhydrous ammonia application just yet – watch the temperature and follow the 4R’s of nutrient stewardship: Right source, Right rate, Right time, Right place.

The Illinois Fertilizer & Chemical Association strongly recommends farmers and fertilizer dealers focus on these four key steps for Fall:

  1. DO NOT APPLY ANHYDROUS AMMONIA IN THE FALL UNTIL THE MAXIMUM DAILY SOIL TEMPERATURE AT THE 4 INCH LEVEL FALLS TO 50 DEGREES AND IS TRENDING DOWNWARD.  Don’t go by the calendar, go to for a link to daily soil temperatures around the state and monitor the soil temperatures in your fields.
  2. USE A LABELED NITRIFICATION INHIBITOR ON ALL FALL APPLIED AMMONIA.  Studies funded by the Illinois Nutrient Research & Education Council (NREC) continue to demonstrate that nitrification inhibitors slow the conversion of nitrogen to a leachable form; it is particularly important to reduce nitrogen leaching in tile drained fields.
  3. SPLIT YOUR NITROGEN APPLICATIONS AND USE THE APPROPRIATE RATE.  The most economically beneficial and environmentally responsible rates for nitrogen can be accessed here.  This program is fed by on-farm research led by Midwest land grant universities; at the University of Illinois it’s supported by NREC to improve nitrogen rate recommendations.  Use the right rate and don’t apply your nitrogen all at once; for example, split the total rate with a stabilized fall application, followed in the spring by a pre-plant and side-dress application.
  4. DO NOT SPREAD DRY FERTILIZER ON FROZEN OR SNOW COVERED SOIL.  Fall or spring is the right time to apply dry fertilizer. Many states have banned the practice and Illinois farmers and fertilizer dealers should take notice and avoid application to frozen or snow cover soil.

IFCA also stresses the importance of proper training and attention to safety during the fertilizer season, especially when it comes to anhydrous ammonia. Farmers and fertilizer dealers need to transport and apply the product carefully and correctly to prevent accidents or accidental releases.

IFCA, in partnership with the Illinois Department of Agriculture offers a free web-based training program for farmers to improve their knowledge of ammonia safety.  Go to to access the training program, available free of charge with funding from NREC.

More information about nutrient stewardship programs can be found at,, and


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