Rain and Warm Soils Could Cause Problems for Nitrogen

May 26, 2010 09:15 AM
With record corn planting progress, many farmers have already applied their nitrogen. The recent warm soils and torrential rain may have put that nitrogen in jeopardy. But some should still be around, says Emerson Nafziger, Extension agronomist at the University of Illinois.
Nitrogen applied as fertilizer either becomes ammonium or nitrate. The ammonium form is favorable, while the nitrate is what farmers should be worried about. Saturated soils can turn nitrate into nitrogen gas, which can easily leave the soil.
If farmers haven't applied nitrogen yet, anhydrous ammonia is the best option because the ammonia has a charge and clings to the soil particles, Nafziger says. Concerns are highest when the weather is warm and wet, which are common conditions across some parts of farm country. Corn plants can take up nitrogen until they are knee-high, so the nitrogen needs to be available in the soil until then.
If farmers are applying urea now while it's wet, Agrotain is a good complement to the urea because it slows the conversion of urea into nitrate, Nafziger says. Urea can be lost unless the rain takes it into the soil. Once it's in the soil, it's safe. Dribbling urea between rows could be most beneficial.
Preventing the loss of nitrogen has a cost, he says. Farmers have to predict the weather to choose which form of nitrogen is best to use in their fields. Because of the wet weather, nitrogen loss is a concern.
There should be a sense of urgency for those farmers who haven't gotten the nitrogen on. If your corn seems a little pale right now, it'll grow out of it, Nafziger says. The cooler temperatures make the plants look pale.
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You can e-mail Rachel Duff at rduff@farmjournal.com

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