Adapt-N, a new software program, analyzes corn crop dynamics, soil types, weather data and more to calculate a course of action for nitrogen use.
As Nick Meier evaluates practices he can implement to coax more yield from each bag of seed corn he plants, he is taking a closer look at the role nitrogen (N) plays in the process. Specifically, the northeast Iowa farmer, based near La Porte City, is fine-tuning how much N he uses and when he uses it, thanks to help from an online tool called Adapt-N.
The program, developed by a team of scientists at Cornell University, led by Harold van Es, provides farmers with real-time, site-specific N analysis. The tool takes into consideration individual corn crop dynamics, soil types, field management practices, and a combination of historical and up-to-the-moment weather data, to calculate a course of action for N use.
"You can run the tool daily, weekly or monthly, and it will continually provide a report and predict how much nitrogen you saved, how much you lost and how much your crop needs at any given time," says Steve Sibulkin, chief executive officer for Agronomic Technology Corp, which has licensed the cloud-based program.
The company commercially launched Adapt-N in 28 states this spring, following three years of in-field testing, 2011 through 2013, on approximately 100,000 acres in 12 states.
"N is a pretty elusive nutrient to pin down, as far as application rates, and this program is eliminating a lot of the guesswork in our management," notes Shannon Gomes, Meier’s agronomist and owner of Cedar Basin Crop Consulting, Decorah, Iowa.
Meier and Gomes beta tested the tool in side-by-side, replicated strip trials, using 16-row equipment, during the 2011, 2012 and 2013 growing seasons, the latter two which were marked by weather extremes. 2012 featured a historic drought, while 2013 was marred by too much rainfall. The two men say recommendations the program made were spot on both years.
In 2012, the tool recommended that Meier not sidedress any anhydrous ammonia in the strips because the crop, due to dry conditions, had yet to absorb the N he had applied the previous fall. That recommendation paid off as Meier found there was no yield difference at harvest between N treated and untreated corn and contributed to a significant savings in product, application cost and time.
In 2013, a somewhat opposite scenario transpired. The tool, indicating his fall-applied N had leached as a result of excessive spring rains, recommended that Meier sidedress 80 lbs. of N per acre. Meier complied with the recommendation on the majority of his corn crop but, as a point of comparison, used only 50 lbs. of N in the strips. Fueled by adequate nutrients and moisture, the portion of the crop that received the additional N netted Meier a 14 bu. per acre average yield increase and a tidy profit, based on last year’s prices.
Meier says his experience during the past two, vastly different growing seasons convinced him to use the program across all his corn acres this year.
"We’re after higher yields, and this gives me a way to make sure I’m not overusing or under-applying N in the process," he notes.
Sibukin says that based on a decade of university research plus multi-regional, on-farm testing, growers can expect to net about $38 per acre in profit, on average—either in saved costs or improved corn yield results—as a result of using Adapt-N.
"This amount has been much higher in wet years, upwards of $100 per acre for some users," Sibukin adds.
Greg Levow, Agronomic Technology Corp president and chief operating officer, describes the program as being scale independent. "It can run on any sized field, slices of a field or even a grid-sampled field with hundreds of zones," he explains.