Side-dress nitrogen applications for corn: Agronomic considerations and a new crop insurance endorsement

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Agronomic considerations

Kansas weather typically gives us dry winters and springs, with rainfall increasing in May, June, and July before tapering off through the late summer and fall. Corn normally takes up little nitrogen (N) until the 6- or 7-leaf stage of growth (typically late May or early June). During June and July, corn typically takes up half or more of its total nitrogen; however, this typically corresponds to the period of maximum rainfall, contributing to a high potential for nitrogen loss. Using a split nitrogen application that supplies some nitrogen pre-plant or at planting to support key early growth functions, with the balance applied in-season, nitrogen loss can be minimized, and less total nitrogen will need to be applied, improving nitrogen use efficiency.

Research conducted in eastern Kansas found the corn yields were improved by either splitting N application between pre-plant and side-dress compared with the entire N rate at pre-plant. The yield advantage was particularly marked during years with a high risk of N losses, such as 2019. Higher N losses will likely occur on poorly drained soils or on sands or sandy loams prone to leaching, and higher side-dress N rates will be needed in many situations.

There are a number of ways to apply nitrogen after corn planting:

  • Ammonia can be side-dressed, beginning as soon as the rows are up and visible. Normally ammonia can still be applied with minimal stalk breakage or root pruning damage until corn's 6-7 leaf stage. One key consideration is the need for good ground condition at the time of application to avoid damaging seedling corn with slabs of soil and generate compaction.
  • UAN solutions, either 28% or 32%, can be applied as a surface band using drop hoses or “Y-drop” attachments to improve N placement. UAN can also be coulter-banded as a side-dress with ground equipment. It’s important to avoid applying UAN over-the-top directly on the plant and damaging leaf tissue, especially at the 5- to 6-leaf stage and later, when the tassel is developing and when the number of rows of kernels on the ear is being determined. Research has shown that burning a leaf or two at the 2- to 4-leaf stage will have minimal effects on yield.
  • Urea can also be broadcast with minimal damage to plants and good response. Warm and moist conditions in the summer increase the risk of volatilization losses with surface application of urea-containing fertilizers. The application of urease inhibitor products can help to reduce N losses, particularly if no rainfall is forecasted for the next 7-10 days.

While side-dress applications can significantly increase nitrogen use efficiency and corn yields, a common concern is related to years when we are unable to apply nitrogen due to wet and poor soil conditions. Depending on the application method, equipment constraints can limit the window for side-dress N applications. To help mitigate the risk of missing the side-dress N application due to weather conditions the Risk Management Agency (RMA) recently announced a new crop insurance option (“endorsement”) for Northeast Kansas corn farmers who split-apply nitrogen.

Post Application Coverage Endorsement (PACE) - 10 County Pilot in Northeast Kansas

PACE is an add-on, or endorsement, for producers that split-apply nitrogen on non-irrigated corn and purchase a yield protection (YP), revenue protection (RP), or revenue protection-harvest price exclusion (RP-HPE) crop insurance policy. Split application of nitrogen can lower input costs and has other benefits, but also exposes a producer to the risk of lower yields if they are prevented or unable to apply nitrogen post-planting.  The PACE add-on coverage will incur additional premium but in return the producer will receive an indemnity if weather causes him or her to be unable to apply nitrogen post-planting. The producer must select (1) a PACE coverage level from 75% to 90% in 5% increments and (2) a post-application percent, which is the share of nitrogen to be applied post-planting. The post-application percent can range from 25% to 80%, in 5% increments.

WHEN? You need to sign up for PACE by March 15, the regular deadline for spring-planted crops.

WHERE? Pace is available in 10 counties in Northeast Kansas: Marshall, Nemaha, Brown, Doniphan, Riley, Pottawatomie, Jackson, Atchinson, Leavenworth, Jefferson


Table 1 shows the estimated premiums and indemnities for PACE policies for a corn producer (non-irrigated) in Nemaha County using an underlying Revenue Protection policy with 75% coverage and enterprise units. The approved yield is 150 bushels per acre and we used an estimated projected price of $5.73 per bushel. If the producer selects 75% PACE coverage and plans to post apply 50% of the nitrogen, the premium will be approximately $2.00 per acre. If a producer is prevented from post-applying nitrogen by the weather, they could receive a payout or indemnityof approximately $58/per acre. If the producer selects 90% PACE coverage and has an 80% post application percent, the premium will be approximately $10.00 per acre. If a producer is prevented from post-applying nitrogen by the weather, they could receive an indemnity of approximately $155/per acre.

Table 1. Estimated 2022 PACE premium and indemnity payments for Nemaha County, KS


75% PACE Coverage

90% PACE Coverage

Post-Application Percent

Producer-Paid Premium


Producer-Paid Premium






























































Notes: Premiums and indemnities are rounded to the nearest dollar. The underlying policy is 75% Revenue Protection with an approved yield of 150 bushels per acres under enterprise units, with a projected price of $5.73/bushel (the final projected price will not be determined until early March) . The PACE indemnity will be higher under RP policies if the harvest price is greater than the project price. Indemnities are determined by projected/harvest price, approved yield, PACE coverage level, a county-specific PACE loss factor, and the producer’s share. These premiums and indemnities are estimates only.


PACE may of interest to producers that are considering side-dress but are concerned about spring weather risks or producers that already side-dress. Producers from outside of NE Kansas may also want to learn about and follow the expansion of this policy. While this product is currently only available for 10 Kansas counties, it is likely to expand and be improved in the future. Further, similar endorsements for conservation or production practices that influence yields may be introduced in the future.

PACE was designed to be simple. For each coverage level and post-application percent, there is a corresponding premium and indemnity. If a producer is unable to side-dress or post-apply nitrogen due to the weather, they will receive the entire indemnity. Based on the example premium and indemnity schedule in Table 1, a producer that receives an indemnity due to being unable to post-apply nitrogen approximately every 15-25 years should be able to cover their premium costs. In other words, in the  long term indemnities would be higher than premiums if a claim is made every 15-25 years, depending on the specific coverage level and post-application percentage that a producer selects.

Other important policy details

  • PACE is an endorsement, with its own premiums and indemnities, in addition to the underlying policy premiums and indemnities. PACE effectively provides additional revenue protection, but for a very specific risk.
  • Coverage is based on (1) the intended post-application percent and (2) coverage level. The post-application percent is the share of nitrogen intended to be applied post-planting. For example, a producer applies 60% of the nitrogen in the fall and 40% post-planting. Coverage levels are from 75 to 90 percent in 5 percent increments; higher coverage costs more and pays out more.
  • Coverage is for post-application within a county-specific window that begins around early April. For example, if a producer in Nemaha County plants corn on April 5, his or her window for post-application is May 22-June 15, with some variance allowed for local conditions. The time between planting and post-application is shorter for later planting dates.
  • A notice of loss must be made within 72 hours after a producer is prevented from post-applying nitrogen. Practically, a producer needs to be in regular contact with their agent during a wet spring and get in touch immediately after their post-application window ends if they were unable to side dress.If a claim is made, subsequent arial applications are not allowed.
  • Unit structure is flexible based on what is used for the underlying policy. Enterprise units coverage is for post-application on all insured acres.
  • Subsidies vary from 38 to 77% and are higher if enterprise units are selected.
  • While unlikely, indemnities cannot exceed the deductible for the underlying policy, in the case that a claim is paid out on the underlying policy
  • RMA has a formula to ensure that the post-application percent is not too high.
  • Producers must provide relevant invoices, receipts, etc. if a claim is made


Dorivar Ruiz Diaz, Nutrient Management Specialist

Jennifer Ifft, Agricultural Policy Specialist

Tags:  nitrogen fertilizer corn crop insurance Side-dress