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Nitrogen Rich Strips

The Nitrogen Rich Strip, or N-Rich Strip, is a technique/tool/process that I spend a great deal of time working with and talking about.  It is one of the most simplistic forms of precision agriculture a producer can adopt.  The concept of the N-Rich strip is to have an area in the field that has more nitrogen (N) than the rest.  Due to our fertilizer applicators this is typically a strip.  The approach maybe somewhat new but at one point most producers have had N-Rich Strips in their fields, albeit accidentally.  Before the days of auto-steer it was not uncommon, and honestly still is not, to see a area in the field that the fertilizer applicator either doubled up on or skipped.  In our pastures and dual purpose/graze out wheat every spring we can see the tell-tale signs of livestock deposits.  When over laps or “Cow Pox” become visible we can assume the rest of the field is behind in nitrogen.  I like to tell producers that the goal of the N-Rich strip is to make a really big cow pie.

Cow Pox, Image courtesy Kaitlyn Nelson
Cow Pox, Image courtesy Kaitlyn Nelson

What I like most about the N-Rich Strip approach is its Simplicity.  The N-Rich Strip is applied and; Scenario 1. The N-Rich Strip becomes visible (Greener) you APPLY NITROGEN, Scenario 2.  The strip is not visible you Option A. DON’T APPLY NITROGEN Option B. Apply Nitrogen Anyways.  The conclusion to apply N or not is based on the reasoning that the only difference between the N-Rich Strip and the area 10 ft from it is nitrogen, so if the strip is greener the rest of the field needs nitrogen.  If there is no difference N is not limiting and our research shows N does not have to be applied.  However producers who decide to be risk adverse (in terms of yield) can apply N but it would be advised to do so at a reduce the rate.  Now is a good time to note that the N-Rich Strip alone provides a Yes or No, not rate recommendation.  At OSU we use the GreenSeeker optical sensor and Sensor Based Nitrogen Rate Calculator (SBNRC) to determine the rate, but that discussion will come later.  I equate the change from using yield goal N rate recs to the N-Rich Strip as to going from foam markers to light bars on a sprayer.   Not 100% accurate but a great improvement.

N-Rich Strip in no-till wheat near Hobart OK.

N-Rich Strip in no-till wheat near Hobart OK.

Now that we have covered the WHY, lets get down to the nuts and bolts HOW, WHEN, WHERE.

How the strip is applied has more to do with convenience and availability than anything else but there are a few criteria I suggest be met. The strip should be at least 10 ft wide and 300 ft long.  The rate should be no less than 50 lbs N (above the rest of the field) for grain only wheat and canola, 80 lbs N for dual purpose wheat.  The normal recommendation is that when applying pre-plant either have a second, higher rate programmed into the applicator or make a second pass over an area already fertilized. Many will choose to rent a pull type spreader with urea for a day, hitting each field.
Becoming more popular are applicators made or adapted for use.  ATV sprayers are the most common as they can be multi-purpose.   In most cases a 20-25 gallon tank with a 1 gpm pump is placed on the ATV with an 8-10ft breakover boom.  The third applicator is a ride away sprayer with a boom running along the rear of the trailer.  In all cases when liquid is the source I recommend some form of streamer nozzle.  In most cases there is not a great deal of thought put into what source.  I recommend whichever source is the easiest, cheapest, and most convenient to apply.

Vincent N-Rich Strip Applicator, Ponca City OK

Vincent N-Rich Strip Applicator, Ponca City OK

Ok State N-Rich Applicator

Oklahoma State Univ. N-Rich Strip Applicator

Gard N-Rich Strip Applicator, Fairview Ok

Gard N-Rich Strip Applicator, Fairview Ok

When the strip is applied in winter crops proper timing is regionally dependent. For the Central Great Plains, ideally the fertilizer should be applied pre-plant or soon after.  However,  in most cases as long as the fertilizer is down by the first of November everything works.  This does not say a strip applied after this time doesn’t work but it leaves more room for error.  There is a chance the crop could already be stressed or the nitrogen tied up and not release in time.  However when the N-Rich Strip approach is used on the Eastern Shore in Virginia and Maryland the strips have to be applied at green up.  The soils in that region are very deep sands and nitrogen applied in the fall may not make it to the spring.  Also most wheat producers in the area make three or more applications of nitrogen unlike the two (pre and top) of the Great Plains.  It is always important to make the tools fit your specific regional needs and practices and not the other way around.

Where is actually the biggest unknown.  The basic answer is to place the N-Rich Strip in the area that best represents the field.  Many people question this as it doesn’t account for spacial variability in the field, and they are correct.  But my response is that in this case spatial variability is not the goal, temporal variability is.  Keeping in mind the goal is to take a field which has been receiving a flat yield goal recommendation for the last 30+ years and make a better flat rate recommendation.  My typically request is that on a field with significant variability either apply a strip long enough to cross the zones or apply smaller strips in each significant area.  This allows for in-season decisions.  I have seen some make the choice to ignore the variability in the field, made evident by the strip, and apply one rate and others choose the address the variability by applying two or more rates.  One key to the placement of N-Rich Strips is record keeping.  Either via notes or GPS, record the location of every strip.  This allows for the strips to be easily located at non-response sites.  It is also recommended to move the strip each year to avoid overloading the area with N.  

I hear a great deal of talk about how it would take to much time to put out the N-Rich Strip.  However the majority of producers that do it once on one field, end up doing it every year on every field. There is very likely someone in your area who is using the N-Rich Strips.   As top-dress grows closer keep an eye out for a blog “Using the GreenSeeker Sensor and Sensor Based Nitrogen Rate Calculator”.

For more information on N-Rich Strips check out the YouTube video below, visit http://www.npk.okstate.edu or contact me directly at b.arnall@okstate.edu.  I have lots of material I am happy to share and distribute.

See the YouTube Video  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kJ3DSwWYgE8


5 Comments

  1. Wow, this post is good, my younger sister is analyzing such things, therefore I am going
    to inform her.

  2. […] fertilizer or sown wheat, there is still time to assess soil N availability and uptake via the N-Rich Strip. In its simplest form, the N-rich strip is an area where N is not limiting. Either by visual […]

  3. […] N-rich strips really came out over all very good this year.  N-Rich Strip Blog. On average many of those using the N-Rich Strip and SBNRC (SBNRC Blog) producers have been […]

  4. […] from one area to the next.  That is why even with an active sensor OSU utilizes N-Rich Strips (N-Rich Strip Blog). The N-Rich Strip tells us if the difference is due to nitrogen or some other variable. We are […]

  5. […] No I did not: Now would probably be ideal to start making those applications depending on fall growth and soil moisture levels. If soil moisture is present, considering apply enough N to reach the farms break-even yield goal. At minimum, 30-40 lbs of N should be applied. The rate ultimately depends on comfortability with putting more money into this crop. Also, it is not late to apply a N-rich strip:  https://osunpk.com/2013/09/19/nitrogen-rich-strips/ […]

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