N-Watch Tracking Illinois Soil Nitrate Levels

The severe drought of 2012 prevented the Illinois corn crop from fully utilizing plant-available nitrogen due to lack of water and extreme heat. In an effort to inventory and track the unused nitrogen in the soil remaining after harvest and determine best management practices to address this residual nitrogen, the Illinois Council on Best Management Practices (CBMP) launched a new soil testing program called N-WATCH.

Working in conjuction with Dr. Emerson Nafziger at the University of Illinois, CBMP provided training to ag retailers and farmers on the N-WATCH procedures and importance of the program. The industry responded and took over 300 N-WATCH soil samples throughout the state following the 2012 harvest. CBMP, with funding assistance from USDA-NRCS, paid the cost of the shipping and analysis of the soil samples. Dr. Nafziger summarized the data collected from the fall sampling effort in a recent UI bulletin on N-WATCH.

Samples collected after harvest revealed that the remaining nitrate was still in the upper soil profile, and potentially available for the 2013 corn crop. However, with recent rains N-WATCH samples collected in March and April now show a significant amount of the drought-related residual nitrate has moved deeper into the soil, making it unavailable to the 2013 crop and susceptible to loss. As a result, there is increased potential of elevated nitrate levels in water. To help provide timely information about nutrient movement, CBMP communicated with the ag industry, with Illinois EPA and with the Illinois Department of Agriculture on the N-WATCH results. CBMP recently hosted a Webinar to discuss the results with water supply officials in priority watershed in central and eastern Illinois.

“The N-WATCH program is a new tool and gives ag retailers and farmers the ability to estimate plant-available nitrogen and adjust application timing and rates accordingly to minimize environmental impact and maximize nitrogen efficiency,” said Mike Plumer, Coordinator for CBMP. “N-WATCH is a new management tool to provide farmers and the ag industry with a more effective way to approach introgen management on the farm,” he added.

The Illinois Council on Best Management Practices represents the combined efforts of the Illinois Farm Bureau, Illinois Corn Growers Association, Illinois Soybean Association, Illinois Fertilizer and Chemical Association, Illinois Pork Producers Association and Syngenta Crop Protection. For information about how to participate in N-WATCH, contact your local ag retailer of the Council on Best Management Practices at 309-827-2774.

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