Four Keys to Optimize Nitrogen
Nitrogen is among the costliest of annual grain farming inputs, so optimizing its use is critical to improving profitability. Consider these four factors when deciding on a nitrogen program to maximize nitrogen efficiency.
- Balance nitrogen with other essential nutrients. Pay attention to both plant demand and a soil’s capacity to retain, cycle, and deliver all 17 plant-essential nutrients. Soils cannot always deliver enough nutrients to complement applied N. Early in the season, when soils are cool, and later, when soils are often too dry, supplementation with the right mix of macro- and micro-nutrients is needed to support optimal crop growth. The Maximum Farming System’s recommended rates of in-furrow and foliar fertilizers provide essential nutrients in balance with applied N to increase nitrogen use efficiency.
- Follow nature to select the right form of nitrogen. When soils are cool in the spring, most soluble nitrogen is in the nitrate form. As soils warm, more ammonium N becomes available, but soil microbes can consume it more efficiently than seedling roots which take up more nitrate. This in turn, tends to increase root tip numbers. Now the stage is set for plants to explore greater volumes of soil for all nutrients throughout the season. As plants mature and microbial activity increases, more ammoniacal nitrogen is available. With a larger root system, plants can absorb it efficiently.
- Improve N use efficiency by using split applications. Applying all N at or before planting increases the risk of seedling stress and increases risk of that fertilizer N will be lost to leaching or volatilization. To improve N use efficiency, the Maximum Farming System recommendations call for nitrogen in a planter-band and, subsequently, as a side dress as late as operationally possible between V6 and V12. This improves crop uptake and reduces net carbon emissions from soils.
- Provide roots late season access to soil water and nitrogen to maximize grain fill. Yields can be reduced if either water or nitrogen are short, so set yield goals accordingly. Because the Maximum Farming System increases root volume from start to finish, the crop makes use of whatever water is available in the profile. By focusing on optimizing the air-water balance, adding carbon, and balancing nutrition, your customers will make the most of the nitrogen they apply.