Big N Boost from Mother Nature in 2016

As new technologies and ideas have emerged in agriculture, growers have adopted them and adapted their cultural practices to continue increasing yields and managing inputs in order to maintain their per-bushel costs. This year has provided a great example for many growers in the realm of nitrogen management.

In the past many growers simply multiplied their yield goal by 1.1 lbs of nitrogen and applied their N based on this formula. As new technology has emerged including imagery, modeling and measuring tools, growers have learned to think differently about their N and are now taking a more measured approach to nitrogen management. These technologies are allowing growers to consider things such as mineralized N from organic matter as part of their plan and make in-season decisions around total N application.

Mineralization of organic nitrogen is a biological process that can be higher or lower depending on the environmental conditions. Years with good moisture, temperature, and aeration coupled with balanced soil pH can mineralize as many as twenty-five or more pounds of N per percent organic matter in the soil.

This year appeared to be a year when mother nature provided many growers with excellent conditions for mineralization. Those who waited to see what could be provided via mineralization were able to adjust in-season N rates without sacrificing yield. At the same time they applied less N that might be available to leach or denitrify into ground water.

There are early reports of growers experiencing yield of 270 bushel corn with 185 pounds of applied N, which is not necessarily unusual, but that kind of efficiency is good for the grower’s pocketbook and good for the environment. By waiting and utilizing technology to help measure and then adjust and apply in-season nitrogen, many growers are experiencing the fruits of new knowledge and information.