There is no one-size-fits-all management plan for nitrogen, according to Ron Lloyd, agronomy and technical lead for 360 Yield Center. That’s too bad – especially considering it’s one of the most expensive inputs of the crop season.
“Inputs must be managed differently today, as margins shrink and regulatory concerns grow,” he 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.”
Even though N needs change from field to field and also from year to year, Lloyd says there are five general guidelines worth following to maximize successful N management.
1. Know (don’t guess) how much N is left. “As farmers, we often take a gut-feel approach to crop management,” Lloyd says. Sometimes, gut-feel works, he says. But rain events, soil moisture, pH, microbial activity and mineralization can all complicate the calculation. Soil test to know for sure how much N is in each field.
2. Don’t assume a “one and done” approach will do. Did you know that up to 75% of N is used after the V10 corn stage? That fact alone should convince more farmers to look into the benefits of split-nitrogen applications, Lloyd says. Timing should consider making N available when the corn needs it, rather than starving the crop early by holding N back for a late-season application, or putting down all of the N early and never coming back, he says.
3. Outsmart Mother Nature. Big rains can be somewhat of an agronomic paradox – depleting available N while at the same time providing extra moisture that could raise yield potential. Lloyd says using crop modeling software can help farmers overcome some of these in-season weather challenges.
4. Use the right rate in the right place. Different management zones in each field use N differently, Lloyd says. Just consider how a 3.5” rainfall on a hill affects N quite differently than the same amount in a valley, he says. Nutrient placement absolutely matters, he adds. With traditional sidedress, most N lands in the middle of the crop row, about 15” from the stalk base. However, a corn plant acquires more than 60% of its N from a horizontal radius of 7”. 360 Yield Center has a product called 360 Y-DROP that can place N within 2” to 3” of the stalk base, Lloyd says.
5. Rethink your window of application. Don’t avoid split-N applications because you’re worried you might miss your window, Lloyd says. Again pointing to 360 Y-DROP, he says farmers can extend their window of application due to a design that allows for more flexibility for late-season N applications.
“The days of luxury nitrogen applications are over,” Lloyd says. “With smarter N management, farmers can make the most of inputs by applying N when it’s needed most, instead of putting it out early when it’s vulnerable to loss from rain and environment.
For additional N management resources on AgWeb, consider: