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Ken Ferrie Guides You Through the Nitrogen Cycle

November 26, 2010
By: Margy Eckelkamp, Farm Journal Machinery Editor and Test Plot Director

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The Systems Approach can help you take your corn yields to the next level. In episode 6 of Corn College TV Farm Journal Field Agronomist Ken Ferrie explains how understanding the nitrogen cycle is a key to adopting the Systems Approach.

“The more a farmer understands about the nitrogen cycle the less trouble we can get into out in the field,” he says. “It’s especially important to know and understand nitrogen loss.”

There are three ways to lose nitrogen:

·         Leaching

·         Denitrification

·         Volatization

Ferrie notes that an important source of nitrogen for the corn plant is the soil itself.

“Between 3,000 to 6,000 lb. of inorganic nitrogen can be available in the soil and can be used to help grow the crop,” he says. “30 % to 70% of nitrogen we need to grow the crop can come from the soil when the nitrogen cycle is able to work very efficiently.”

Ferrie explains that part of why farmers apply nitrogen is to stimulate the soil microbes to help with that process. The soil microbes immobilize N and then it’s mineralized back in the field.

One way to ensure that the nitrogen cycle is able to conduct itself efficiently is to maintain proper soil pH because the microbes have a narrow pH window they work in.

Ferrie warns that immobilization is a factor in all production rotations, but it’s especially important to understand the relationship between carbon and nitrogen in corn-on-corn.

Learn more in Episode 6 of Corn College TV.

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