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.
"The user can create field boundaries using shapefile (software) or by drawing fields with our mapping tool," Levow adds. "They then drop pins to indicate the zones within those fields."
Not Cheap Insurance
N plays a pivotal role in corn production. That fact, along with N’s impact on the environment, makes it paramount that the input is applied accurately and responsibly. Plus, N is an incredibly complex, elusive nutrient, says consulting agronomist Greg Kneubuhler, owner of G & K Concepts, Inc., based in Harlan, Ind.
"Different soil types, slopes, drainage, organic matter and Mother Nature in particular affect nitrogen; you can’t treat every corn acre with an average N rate if you’re going to do a better job of nitrogen management," he says.
Last year, Kneubuhler retrospectively compared N application rates prescribed by Adapt-N to those his customers actually applied. He says the tool recommendations matched the optimum economic rates of N he had prescribed to farmers in all but a handful of instances.
Gomes has seen similar results in Iowa.
"The model has done a good job about 90% of the time," Gomes says. "When it’s underestimated N, say we were 3 or 4 bu. short, compared to normal yields, economically it wouldn’t have paid to put on more N because of the cost of that application."
Kneubuhler says tweaks the company made to its algorithms after the 2013 season have improved the program.
"I believe it’s as close to any predictive nitrogen model out there now," he says.
For 2014, the company has collaborations with agronomists and farmers in 12 states who are conducting controlled strip trials to ensure the tool is well-calibrated. Eventually, company officials expect to have strip trials in every state where the program is used.
Three tiers of Adapt-N are available for farmers’ and agronomists’ consideration. Which tier an individual selects will likely vary based on size and scope of the farming operation or business. Farmers can get started with the tool for $99, which covers 100 acres. Additional acreage can be added to an individual’s program at any time.
"A farmer with 1,000 acres or more would probably want to use our grower pro plan, which would cost between $1.50 and $3.50 an acre," Sibukin says.
The one-time-per-season fee allows the grower or consultant to run the program as often as desired on the selected set of acres; it automatically runs once a day.
Kneubuhler says he would advise most farmers to work with someone to implement the program. "Unless you have a person in the office who has the time to input all the data and evaluate it, then I think having a CCA or crop consultant run the tool, kick out a weekly or monthly report and make recommendations is the way to go," he recommends.
Because Adapt-N is based on cloud computing, meaning the software and databases are centrally located on servers, farmers and consultants can access recommendations it prescribes in their fields, home or the local coffee shop using a smart phone, iPad or any computer with internet access.
More information about the program is available at www.adapt-n.com.