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                What are the Economic Losses of Coolers

Pressure reducing NH3 systems are the most inaccurate nitrogen application systems in agriculture. Some shanks apply 3 to 4 more than adjoining shanks.

Coolers actually result in a greater variance since 2.5% of the flow is vented through two 3/4 inch Id lines. These vent lines are normally connected to the center shanks of the tool bar.

At 200 lbs. per acre two bands are receiving a total of 60 lbs. per acre of misapplied N. 

For each 1,000 acres of applied NH3 at the 40 gallon per acre rate (168 lbs. of N/A), $550.00 is wasted. This is calculated at 13 cent per lb. N. or 55 cents per gallon. 

With 80 million acres of corn in production (64 million acres use coolers) a total of $35 million is wasted or vented into the environment each year.

There are 280,000 NH3 trailer tanks in the US. Each tank produces an annual cash flow of $56,750 each. There are 224,000 tanks that use coolers. Each cooler equipped tank results in $1,419 of misapplied N. 

There are 50,000 NH3 tool bars in the US. 80 % of the tool bars use coolers. 

That is 40,000 coolers applying 1.4 billion dollars of NH3 on 64 million acres of just corn not including wheat. 

The agricultural use of NH3 is $2 billion. $1.6 billion is applied with coolers. Coolers waste or vent annually into the environment $40 million of NH3. 

For each 1,000 acres of applied NH3 for corn production, 1.2 trailer tanks or 1,200 gallons of NH3 is wasted trying to push NH3 forward from the tank outlet to the manifold. 

The equivalent of 40 horsepower is vented through the cooler at a 40 gallon per minute flow rate. 

A compressor would require a 40 horsepower diesel engine to recompress 114 cubic feet per minute of NH3 vapor vented from the cooler.

Out Of Sight And Out Of Mind.

A very high percentage of the applied NH3 is never used by the crop. In some cases only 10% of the fall applied nitrogen (NH3) is used by the corn crop. This is more do to timing.

So where did all the money(NH3) go?  Into the rivers, the drinking water creating a horrendous environmental problem. NH3 must be applied very accurately to protect an environmental problem. Nitrate is costing our economy up to $6 Billion per year. By the way agricultural nitrogen contributes to about 55% of the problem.

Coolers magnify inaccurate application and create significant environmental problems.

Was The Fox Guarding The Hen House?

Not really is this the case. But something did go wrong. The early designs of NH3 application systems used internal coolers that vented the vaporized NH3 into the manifold and not directly to the openers. Port to port variance was not good but N was cheap. Can you believe nitrogen only cost 2 to 3 cents per lb. in the early 60’s. 

Train compressors built by Kellogg were installed at several new plants. These new plants came on line almost simultaneously in the early 60’s. NH3 was in oversupply and new corn hybrids need up to twice as much placed N to meet yield expectations. Rotational crops such as nitrogen fixing alfalfa disappeared. 

The timing of nitrogen application was different. Do you remember when NH3 was placed with side dressing knifes in the growing crop? The tractors traveled at 3 to 4 mph. The tool bar had 4 shanks and a 500 gallon tank. The flow rates were low in fact very low by today’s standard at 5 to 7 gallons per minute. 

This is the key to what happened. It is like topsoil erosion. You don’t miss it until it is gone. It takes time to understand what is happening and like topsoil the nitrate is in the rivers, the Gulf of Mexico and drinking water. 

The timing changed to the fall application period. The tool bars became wider, up to 52 feet. The tanks got bigger. The tank pressures dropped because of lower ambient temperatures. The tank valves and supply lines remained the same. 

The 1.25 inch top fitted excess flow valves were only designed to meet an applicator flow not to exceed 10 gallons per minute. The supercooler salesman was a hero. Only 2.5 % of the flow was vented. That vented flow went directly into the ground so the crop could use it. 

Wrong.... the crop didn’t use it. The mobile nitrate ended up in the water you drink. 

Today NH3 flow rates can be as high as 40 gallons per minute. Tool bars travel at almost double the speed. “Damn the torpedoes, Full speed ahead”. 

So when nitrogen is cheap why not vent a portion of flow into the ground? This will allow the tank valves and lines to remain the same. 

Somewhere in the 70’s it happened. Supercoolers allowed the applicator to exceed the flow values of the tank valves. The tool bars are wider. The tool bar can go 5 to 6 mph. N is cheap... .just vent it’ 

This makes some sense to those who must meet production goals. So over the last 30 years we created a problem. 

Nitrogen cost went up and clean water became an issue. Nitrogen use efficiency went down as we masked the problem of “Where Did All The Money Go(NH3)”?

 

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