4 Tips For Smarter Nitrogen Management
How much nitrogen does it take to produce 200 bushels of corn per acre? That’s a very common question with multiple answers, according to Ron Lloyd, Agronomy and Technical Lead, 360 Yield Center. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to nitrogen management. And not every corn crop needs the same amount of N to produce 200 plus bushels per acre. The reality is that an effective nitrogen management plan needs to focus on how much N a particular field and corn crop needs, as well as how to properly manage N throughout the growing season – with adjustments along the way.
“Inputs must be managed differently today, as margins shrink and regulatory concerns grow,” Lloyd says. “Now is the time to take control and make even smarter N management plans that focus on applying N when and where corn needs it most.”
Lloyd offers four steps to rethinking – and maximizing - nitrogen management.
- Know, don’t guess how much N is left. “As farmers, we often take the gut-feel approach to crop management,” Lloyd added. “Sometimes that works.” But guessing how much N is in a field – and, in turn, guessing how much to put down – doesn’t allow for the most accurate and impactful nitrogen management plans. Nitrogen levels are complicated to calculate on gut-feel alone. Rain events, soil moisture, pH, microbial activity and mineralization all play a role. The only way to know exactly much N is needed is knowing how much is in the field.
- Don’t assume a one-and-done approach will do. Corn demands nitrogen throughout the growing season, and its demands fluctuate and continue to grow as the season progresses. In fact, up to 75% of N is used after V10. With too little nitrogen late in the growing season, especially when kernels form, yield potential could be at risk. Split-nitrogen application allows farmers to apply N throughout the growing season. It’s not about starving the crop early by holding N back for late-season application or putting down all of the N early and never coming back. It’s about maximizing N inputs so it’s available when the corn needs it.
- Provide the right amount of N in the right place. Nitrogen needs change not only throughout the season but also throughout fields. Different management zones in fields use nitrogen differently – a 3.5 inch rain on a hill makes a different impact on N levels than a 3.5 inch rain in a valley. Taking nitrate samples from different management zones allows farmers to build a variable rate N plan that provides the right amount of N to each zone in a field to maximize every pound of N. Where N is applied within the row also is important. Traditional sidedress methods apply N in the middle of the crop row - nearly 15 inches from the stalk base. Yet, a corn plant acquires more than 60% of its N from a horizontal radius of approximately 7 inches
- Rethink your window of application. Some farmers may avoid split-N application because of the worry, “Will I miss my window?” Traditional sidedress methods tend to have a short and worrisome window of application. And, if farmers miss it, their crop goes without the N it so desperately needs.