Less is More: Growing More Corn with Less N

The saying, “you can’t save your way to prosperity,” may be true in many instances, but is it possible to save money by spending less on nitrogen while increasing revenue through higher yields?

The idea of reducing nitrogen inputs while increasing yield is a delicate balance and certainly not a practice that will work in every situation. However, there may be opportunities for some growers to reduce nitrogen inputs while also increasing yields, or at least maintaining yield levels.

Today as commodity prices decrease and margins narrow it is important to examine methods for becoming more efficient, especially with our nitrogen inputs.

When building your nitrogen plan, make sure you account for mineralization of organic nitrogen. Poorly drained soils with imbalanced pH etc, may only need 12 -15 lbs of N for every percent organic matter, but if you have balanced fertility and good drainage perhaps you plan on 20 to 25 pounds per percent of organic matter.

Rethink how and where you apply your N. In the past most growers often applied more N to their good ground to boost yields where the potential is highest. Many growers now realize by planning for higher mineralization on their better ground they can shift their N application and put more N on the ground that will mineralize less.

This formula is precisely the one followed by Till & Drill Farms in eastern Ohio. The growers, Mark and Dustin Crunkilton, also changed the timing of application and placement within the row by splitting N?to a later stage in the growth cycle and applying it right next to the row. These two simple practices appeared to have improved efficiency dramatically and produced a larger yield with less N.


While it is likely uncomfortable to reduce nitrogen inputs on your better ground, changing where you apply and adjusting your timing and placement may be a path to grow more corn on fewer dollars.