There is a whole lot of conjecture in the farming world, you must use this equipment to get your maximum yields, use this brand for better performance, and implement this technique or practice to improve your results.  The truth is, we hear a lot of sales pitches by equipment manufacturers that are made with a great deal of enthusiasm, but somewhere in the middle are the facts.

In recent years, there has been some isolated speculation regarding side banding and whether it’s a good practice for seed and fertilizer placement.  In order to address the question of side banding as a fertilizer and seed applicator; we need to break it back down to the soil basics.

Not all openers, banders, disks, brands, etc. are created equal, what really sets opener companies and their equipment apart is that some will follow agronomy facts better than others.  There is no piece of equipment in this world that can bypass the basic laws of agronomy.


Fertilizer Form Makes a Difference No Matter What Equipment you use

Whether you’re applying your Nitrogen in a solid form like granular, an anhydrous gas, or a liquid fertilizer, all fertilizer forms will interact with the soil differently and have different seed burn risks.  Below are some recommendations from the Government of Manitoba that will help you ensure a safe application by fertilizer type[1].

  1. Granular and ESN Fertilizers are slower release fertilizers that will take longer to break down in soils, so they are inherently safer to place with a seed.
  2. The Anhydrous form of fertilizer may be a bit more problematic for a sideband application if it’s improperly applied.  A well-designed opener will ensure an adequate seed and fertilizer separation.  In addition, sealer plate/closer technology assists in properly sealing the anhydrous band directly into the furrow.  This allows the anhydrous to avoid not only direct seed and fertilizer contact, but it also eliminates or controls volatilization.
  3. Liquid is highly dependent on a proper seed/fertilizer separation, the chosen fertilizer rate being put down, soil type, and soil moisture so it will need a great deal of consideration from a producer and their agronomist.

There are many sideband openers out there that can successfully and safely place even the trickier fertilizer forms; it just takes a well-designed opener that is compatible with your specific conditions.

Nutrient Placement Matters

Placing your nutrients close to your seed always comes with a risk of Nitrogen seed burn, but what some companies won’t tell you is that placing your nutrients too far from your seed could be just as problematic to your yield.  Your crop needs nutrients like Phosphorus to be present early on, so these must be close and available to the seed[2].  Phosphorus plays a role in the very DNA of a crop, energy usage, root and stalk development.  In fact, plants will attain 75% of their total phosphorus needs by the time they’ve attained only 25% of their total weight[3]!  Without Phosphorus, crops can have poor uniformity, later crop emergence, poor maturation, and a reduced resistance to pathogens.  No matter which brand of opener or bander you use, you need to be conscious of the best seed and fertilizer placement practices.

When seed and fertilizer are placed too far from each other, the seedlings roots will have to reach further to access the fertilizer, potentially delaying important Phosphorus catalysts within the crops2.


Soil Texture

Side band performs especially well in heavy clay, clay, silt, and loam soil types[4].  With heavy clay choose an opener without large vertical separation, for sandier soils try to stay narrow and get your separation vertically instead.  There are always practical issues when working with dryer sandier soils, more caution must be taken in order to prevent burn, and you must lower your rates of application[1]. These guidelines are set for disks, knives, sweeps, hoes, and spoons alike…you must be careful in a sandy dry soil no matter what equipment you’re running.  And as for side banding, choosing the right opener can make a big difference i.e. choosing the opener that’s most suitable for your soil type and has the right amount of separation between fertilizer and seed.


Soil Moisture

Soil moisture can and will change the fertilizer rates you can safely put down. A soil with a good level of moisture will be more protected from seed burn than a dryer soil[1].  In a moist soil the H20 essentially acts as a protective barrier between the seed and fertilizer, H20 aids in the decomposition process where microbes will breakdown the high concentration nutrients into a plant usable form.

For those that run disks or banders in moist soil there are two aspects to consider.

  1. Hair-pinning can become a problem, i.e. when the straw from last year’s crop is damp it can bend as the opener passes over and becomes lodged in the soil putting residue between the seed and its emergence[5].  Hair-pinning is not known to be an issue with side band openers.
  2. Moist clay soils may not have good quality furrow closure with a disk opener design.

When buying equipment be careful to focus as much on the agronomy as the sales features. Talk to other farmers and agronomists to get some additional unbiased advice and experience.

Written and Published by Jessica Kohls, BSc, PgCE – Dutch Soil Biologist