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Components of a variable rate nitrogen recomendation
I recently wrote a article for the Crops and Soils magazine on the components of a Variable Rate Nitrogen Recommendation. The people at the American Society of Agronomy headquarters were kind enough to make it open access. What follows in this blog is just a highlight reel. For the full article visit https://dl.sciencesocieties.org/publications/cns/articles/49/6/24
Components of a variable rate nitrogen recommendation
Variable-rate nitrogen management (VRN) is a fairly hot topic right now. The outcome of VRN promises improved efficiencies, economics, yields, and environmental sustainability. As the scientific community learns more about the crop’s response to fertilizer nitrogen and the soil’s ability to provide nitrogen, the complexity of providing VRN recommendations, which both maximize profitability and minimize environmental risk, becomes more evident.
The components of nitrogen fertilizer recommendations are the same whether it is for a field flat rate or a variable-rate map. The basis for all N recommendations can be traced back to the Stanford equation (Stanford, 1973). At first glance, the Stanford equation is very basic and fairly elegant with only three variables in the equation.
Historically, this was accomplished on a field level through yield goal estimates and soil test nitrate values. The generalized conversions such as 1.2 lb N/bu of corn and 2.0 lb N/bu of winter wheat took account for Ncrop and efert to simplify the process.
The basis for Ncrop is grain yield × grain N concentration. As grain N is fairly consistent, the goal of VRN methods is to identify grain yield. This is achieved through yield monitor data, remote sensing and crop models.
The N provided by, or in some cases removed by, the soil is dynamic and often weather dependent. Kindred et al. (2014) documented the amount of N supplied by the soil varied spatially by 107, 67, and 54 lb/ac across three studies. Much of the soil N concentration is controlled by OM. For every 1% OM in the top 6 inches of the soil profile, there is approximately 1,000 lb N/ac.
Historically, the efficiency at which N fertilizer is utilized was integrated into N recommendations and not provided as an input option, e.g., the general conversion factor for corn of 1.2 lb N/bu. Nitrogen concentration in corn grain ranges from 1.23–1.46% with an average of 1.31% (Heckman et al., 2003) or 0.73 lb N/bu. Therefore, the 1.2-lb value is assuming a 60% fertilizer use efficiency. More recently, recommendations have been to incorporate application method or timing factors in attempt to account for efficiencies.
While a VRN strategy that works across all regions, landscapes, and cropping systems has yet to be developed, the process of nitrogen management has greatly improved and is evolving almost daily. Those methods that are capable of determining the three inputs of the Stanford equation while incorporating regional specificity will capture the greatest level of accuracy and precision. Ferguson et al. (2002) suggested that improved recommendation algorithms may often need to be combined with methods (such as remote sensing) to detect crop N status at early, critical growth stages followed by carefully timed, spatially adjusted supplemental fertilization to achieve optimum N use efficiency. As information and data are gathered and incorporated and data-processing systems improve in both capacity and speed, the likelihood of significantly increasing nitrogen use efficiency for the benefit of the society and industry improves. The goal of all practitioners is to improve upon the efficiencies and economics of the system, and this should be kept in mind as new techniques and methods are evaluated. This improvement can be as small as a few percentages
This article is published in the Crops and Soils Magazine doi:10.2134/cs2016-49-0609. The full article includes more details on the components plus concepts of integration.
Agriculture Apps, 200 strong and growing
It was just 11 months ago when I wrote my last blog on Ag apps. Since that time I have presented on the topic several times, added nearly 100 new apps, have filmed several designated segment on sunup featuring apps (these can be seen at http://www.youtube.com/osunpk), and released two (soon to be three) apps myself. Below is the introductory slide I have been using in all of my app talks, on this slide you can see how the number of apps have been increasing overtime. In this update I wanted to share some of the new sections I have added to manage the vast number apps and go through some of my favorite apps in each of the sections.
Finding the right app has not changed as I still just give an app 3 minutes before a keep or drop decision is made, however since a year ago some of the key words are now less useful. For example a search for wheat will bring up droves of gluten free diet apps. None of these fit the bill for what I am looking for. Though out the blog you can click on pictures screenshots to get a better view of the app buttons.
Ag News and Weather
Still a very large section with little change for my recommendations, just go with what suits you in layout and reporting. I personally use RonOnRON (Ron Hays, the voice of Oklahoma Agriculture), DTN/PF, AG/Web, and AgWired.
This includes peer review publications, resource guides and extension materials.
The majority of the Calculator apps preform relatively simple functions without the need of cellular or wifi connectivity. The Ag PhDs have two apps in the section I want to highlight, HarvestLoss and Fert. Removal. Both apps are useful tools in making management decisions. HarvestLoss allows the user to calculate the economic loss of a poorly set combine while Fert. Removal allows the user to select from a wide range of crops and see an exit ate of nutrient removal based upon selected yield level. Other useful apps are Growing Degree which allows the user to see cumulative heat units a crop has received anywhere in the US, Corn Yield Calc estimates corn yield based on ear girth and length, Canola Calc is a great apps produced by Pioneer which calculates the proper planting rate of canola based upon several factors and the Kansas Wheat Yield Calculator KWYC, uses growth stage stalk counts, height and/or NDVI to estimate potential grain yield.
This section is filled with University Extension handbooks such as Purdue’s Field Guide ($12.99), University of Arkansas Corn Advisor, University of Kentucky Corn Production, and one private groups MFA Agronomy. Each of these guides are quality apps and should be chosen based upon geography or personal preference. The university apps mirror their respective hard copies however UK’s app added a nice update section highlighting local Ag news. MFA’s app is strong in pesticides with good herbicide performance data.
For any producer who regularly applies animal waste the Manure Calc by the University of Nebraska is a great tool. The University of Wisconsin has a nice app in N Price Calculator and the Saskatchewan Soil Conservation association (SSCA) has created a nice fertilizer blend app. Oklahoma State University has Ammonia Loss Calculator which uses soil pH and environmental conditions to estimate N losses from surface applied urea.
I am also getting into the app game with two recently released apps the Canola Starter and Field Guide. Canola Starter provides a recommendation for safe starter rates based on row width and fertilizer source. Field Guide is app version of my Nutrient Management Field Guide, this app includes a nutrient removal calculator, nutrient deficiency ID tool, and fertilizer rate calculators. Along with these I have several in the wings with titles like Crop Nutrients in Irrigation, GDDs>0, and Wildlife FoodPlot.
As mentioned in my first two blogs the University of Missouri’s IDWeeds app was the first taxonomy based weed identification tool. I still use it regularly but both BASF and Monsanto have brought products to the table, both named WeedID, that are very user friendly and effective. Plant Images ($5.00) is a library of nutrient deficiency photos from a large selection of crops. Years and Ag PhDs also have apps available with deficiency images named Yara Checkit and Crop Nutrient Deficiencies. Cereal Disease ID app by BASF is intended for the UK and DuPonts Pestbook for Australian cotton farmers but I find that both can be very useful even in Oklahoma.
Pay to Play, Registrations
I have heard several good things about many of these apps. However they reguire the user to either be an employee or patron of the company or online registration. In a pay to pay app I would expect an all inclusive tool that could replace several free apps and preform record keeping duties.
To be honest this is not a section I use much as I do not have an operation to maintain records on. However just by walking through the apps Crop Calculator by the University of Wisconsin and Pesticide Recordkeeping (PeRK) by University of Nebraska.
This section has apps that I classify as decision aid tools that could be used by someone scouting crops and apps that can be used to map and or collect field notes. South Dakota State has two great tools in Soy Diseases and NPIPM Soybean Guide. Scout and Sirrus.
Company based, Pioneers app products are some of the best with Plantability and Estimator
Some things haven’t changed I still use Tank Mix Calc and Spray Select on a very regular basis. But over the past year a few companies have added product finders and Clemson University has released a very nice sprayer calibration app named Calibrate.
The last two apps are Mesonet and Climate Corp Basic. You will notice the background on the screen shot is slightly different. That is because neither of these apps is kept Ina folder, both are on my home screen. Whether it is rain, temp, or wind weather impacts all aspects of agriculture therefore these two apps are always within one tap. For any producer in Oklahoma the Mesonet is an amazing system with 120 automated weather stations spread evenly across the state. This app just provides this data with just a few swipes of the finger. For those outside of Ok Climate Basic allows producers to first save field of interest and then monitor rainfall and environmental conditions of each field. While not extremely accurate it is defiantly close enough for those with a wide territory to be a very handy app.
For more information and some screen shots of the apps in action either visit my website http://npk.okstate.edu/presentations or my YouTube site http://www.youtube.com/osunpk under the playlist OSU_NPK on Sunup.
Nutrient Products: Stabilizers, Enhancers, Safeners, Biologicals and so on.
In this blog I am not going to tell you what to use or what not to use. In fact I will not mention a single product name. What I will do is hopefully provide some food for thought, new knowledge and direction.
First I want to approach a topic I have been called out on several times. I believe there is a stigma that University researchers and extension specialists do not want products to work. It may seem that way at times but it is far from the truth. The reality is that all of us are scientists and know someone may be inventing the product that changes nutrient management as we speak. The issue is that most of us have been jaded. While I may be younger I have over 11 years experience, testing “products” in the field, and that includes dozens of products. I have sprayed, spread, tossed, drilled, mixed and applied everything under the sun, with hopes that I will see that one thing I am always looking for, MORE GRAIN…
The truth is Everything works Sometimes yet Nothing works ALL the time. I and others in my profession do not expect anything to work 100% of the time, I am personally looking for something that will provide a checkmark in the win column 50% of the time. A win is the result of one of two things, more money in the producers pocket or less nutrients in the water or air. Products can increase vigor, nutrient uptake, chlorophyll concentration, greenness but not yield. What Co-op or elevator pays for any of those attributes? Grain makes green.
So many safeners, stabilizers, enhancers, biologicals, and on and on are available, so what should a producer do? Here are few things to think about. Ask yourself “ what part of my nutrient management plan can I get the most bang from improving”?
If the answer is Nitrogen (N) there are three basic categories: Urease inhibition, Nitrification inhibitor, and slow release. All are methods of preventing loss; the last two are preventing loss from water movement.
Urease inhibitors prevent the conversion of Urea to NH3 (ammonia). This conversion is typically a good thing, unless it happens out in the open. Ideally any urea containing product is incorporated with tillage or rain. However, in No-till when urea is broadcast and no significant rainfall events (>0.5”) occur, N loss is likely. The urea prill starts dissolving in the presence of moisture, this can be a light rain or dew, and urease starts converting urea into NH3. As the system dries and the day warms, if there was not enough moisture to move the NH3 into the soil the wind will drive NH3 into the atmosphere. Nitrogen loss via this pathway can range from 5% to 40% of the total N applied.
Nitrification inhibitors prevent the conversion of NH4 into NO3. Both are plant available N sources but NH4 is a positively charged compound that will form a bound with the negatively charged soil particles. Nitrate (NO3) is negatively charged and will flow with the water, in corn country that tends to be right down the tile drainage. Nitrate will also be converted to gasses under wet water logged soil conditions. Nitrate is lost in the presence of water, this means I do not typically recommend nitrification inhibitors for western OK, KS, TX dryland wheat producers.
Slow release N (SRN) comes in a range of forms: coated, long chain polymer, organic and many versions in each category. Again, water is the reason for the use of SRN sources. Slow release N whether coated or other have specific release patterns which are controlled by moisture, temperature and sometimes microbes. The release patterns of SRNS are not the same and may not work across crops and landscapes. For instance in Oklahoma the uptake pattern of nutrients for dryland corn in the North East is not that same as irrigated corn in the West. The little nuances in the growth pattern of a crop can make or break your SRN.
While N products have been on the market for decade’s phosphorus enhancers and stabilizers are relatively new, resulting in many of my peers holding back on providing recommendations until field trials could be conducted. At this point many of us do have a better understanding of what’s available and are able to provide our regional recommendations. Phosphorus products are not sold to prevent loss like their N counterparts; they are sold to make the applied P more available. On a scale of 1 to 10, P reactivity with other elements in the soil is a 9.9. If there is available Ca, Mg, Fe, or Al, phosphorus is reacting with it. In the southern Great Plains it is not uncommon for a soil to have 3,000-5,000 lbs of available Ca, a soil with a pH of 4, yes we have many of those, will have approximately 64,000 lbs of Al in the soil solution. That’s a lot of competition for your fertilizer P and for any substance that is trying to protect it.
I have been testing “biologicals” of all shapes and forms since 2003. While I have not hit any homeruns I have learned quite a bit. Many of these products originate from up north where the weather is kind and organic matter (OM) is high. Where I work the average OM is 0.75% and soil temp is brutal and unforgiving. Our soil does not have many reserves to release nor is it hospitable to foreign bodies.
I hope you are still hanging on as this next topic is a bit of a soap box for me. Rate, Rate, Rate this aspect is missed both by producers and academia and it drives me crazy. If your crop is sufficient in any growth factor adding more will not increase yield. It goes back to Von Liebig’s LAW of the Minimum. I see too many research studies in which products are tested at optimum fertilization levels. This is just not a fair comparison. On the other hand, time and again I see producers sold on a product because they applied 30% less N or P and cut the same yield. If you let me hand pick 100 farms in Oklahoma I could reduce the N rate by 30% of the average and not lose a bushel on 75 of the farms. Why? Because the rate being used was above optimum in the first place, there is no magic just good agronomy. The list of products that increase the availability of nutrients is a mile long. Increasing nutrient availability is all well and good if you have a deficiency of one of those nutrients. If you don’t, well you have increased the availability of something you did not need in the first place.
University researchers and extension professionals seem to live and die by the statistics, and are told so regularly. We do rely upon the significant differences, LSD’s, and etc to help us understand the likely hood of a treatment causing an effect. However if I see a trend develop, or not develop, over time and landscape regardless of stats I will have no problem making recommendations. The stats help me when I do not have enough information (replications).
Too wrap up, have a goal. Do not just buy a product because of advertised promises or because a friend sells it. There is a right time and place for most of the things out there, but you need to know what that is and if it suits your needs. I also recommend turning to your local Extension office. We do our best to provide unbiased information in hopes of making your operation as sustainable as possible. If you are looking at making sizable investments do some reading, more than just Google. Testimonies are great but should but should not be enough to cut a check. Google Scholar www.google.com/scholar is a good resource for scientific pubs. I have done my best to put together a list of peer reviewed publications and their outcomes. To make the review work I had to be very general about outcome of the research. Either the product increased yield or decreased environmental losses or it had no impact. This was not easy as many of the papers summarize multiple studies. I did my best to make an unbiased recommendation but some could be argued. http://npk.okstate.edu/Trials/products/Product_Peer_Review.8-21-2014.pdf
Ag Apps Updated
Since my Ag App post in July I have presented on the topic an additional five times and have two more on the books for 2014. A good thing about doing talks is that you have to update the information to remain current. Which in all honesty, when it comes to technology of any kind this is quite challenging and even more so for Smart Phone Apps. In July when I first blogged on the subject I had 76 apps on my iPad. Today (1.3.14) I have 111 apps on my iPad, for both the iPhone and iPad, that I deem to be Ag related. Since the summer I have found new favorites, changed some, and added categories but for the most part I still maintain my 2 minute rule stated in the first blog. I have allowed a bit more leniency in that I now say “If I cannot figure it out in 3 minutes it’s GONE. An app should be intuitive, easy to use and have a purpose. They only exception to the 3 minute rule is the Scouting and Mapping Apps. Because of their complexity I allow them 5 minutes, and then I am done. Any app with GIS in its name gets much more time” I guess I am just getting soft.
Again I must make the obligatory statement; I am not a developer, designer, or expert. I am just a user who has had a chance to look at a few apps. Almost all of the apps I have are free and I am sure I have missed a few. Please share those with me. I am also not discussing Mobi’s, this is another large group of quality decision aid tools. I am also not discussing none apples apps. This is not because they are not relevant or important, it is because I do not have that technology.
I now have nine Ag folders on my iPad:
Ag News/Weather/Markets, Scouting/Mapping, Record Keeping, ID Tools, Crop Tools, Calculators, Sprayer/Chemicals, Fertilizer, Seed Select.
Apps are nice because the majority are stand alone and do not need internet or cell connection. This means they can be used when you are in the middle of nowhere, which is a great deal of Oklahoma, and have no service. This will exclude many of the Ag News/Weather/Markets, Scouting/Mapping, and Record Keeping apps that need positioning or location information.
Now let’s discuss some of the new and old apps.
Not much change in this group however I have added one or two.
This category has changed the most. Record keeping apps have been removed and several new apps added. The only free apps which can create boundaries are still Scout and Sirrus. To date Scout remains to be my favorite app for in field scouting notes. Pictures tagged with Lat Long and a note is very useful. My knock on is app is its boundary creation. It is a challenge every time as it is hard to remember the steps and not make a mistake. That is where Sirrus comes to play, by far the best boundary creation app. Sirrus has easy to use tools for both point and pivot boundaries. I like the edit vertex zoom in tool that resembles a rifle scope. I was able to add 12 fields in a matter of 20 minutes. Being able to create grid soil sampling scheme and record samples is also a very nice tool. My favorite part of the app, the UNDO button, and all apps should include this. The drawback to Sirrus is that it has no ability to take notes such as Scout. An additional nice scouting tool is South Dakota States NPIPM (North Plains IPM) app. This app provides not only a pest id tool with morphological drop down, I will discuss this in the ID Tools cat, but also management recommendation for the identified insect.
The majority of the apps in this category are “Pay to Play”, which makes since as they deal with data management and storage. Many would also fit the Scouting/Mapping category. As I do not pay for many apps I do not have experience with any of these. However this is the category that I would recommend any group to look at as they should be the all-inclusive app. However, PeRK by the University of Nebraska is a free app designed for field records of pesticide applicators.
I have added a few apps to this category but my favorites have not changed. I regularly use Plant Images, ID Weeds, and the Pestbook as references. I will add more discuss to app ID tools. The importance of being able to ID weeds and Pest via morphological drop down menus (ID Weeds and NPIPM) is extremely important. Many of the ID tools just have pictures and names. Well is I am using an ID Tool I likely do not know what I am looking at or what it is called.
Crop Tools includes my second “Paid in Full” app. And this one hurt a bit more. Not because it cost money but because I have multiple versions of the hard copy. However Field Guide by Purdue is one of my most recommended apps. Field Guide is the electronic version of the Purdue Corn and Soybean Field Guide, which the majority of consultants in the Corn Belt likely have this sitting in their truck. The Stoller apps also have nice very nice image bank of plant developmental phases. FieldGuide and CornAdvisor, another good app, are great examples of what I expect to be coming out of the majority of the Land Grant Universities very soon. Cooperative Extension has hundreds if not thousands of quality hard copy publications just waiting to be turned in to handy dandy apps. To be honest I am working on turning my Nutrient Management Field Guide into an app right now.
Only two apps has been added to this category. I am still using Fert.Removal, HarvestLoss and Growing Degrees on a regular basis.
Many apps have been added to this group but none of them have been good enough to kick TankMixCalc and SpraySelect of my favorites list.
Similar to the Sprayer/Chemicals category several apps have been added to this group, including several from Ok State. For me the Fert Cost Calc is still very useful. I do not get to use the Manure Calc I am very impressed by its layout and user friendliness. This app allows for applicator calibration, nutrient recs and manure value estimator.
It is no surprise the apps in this category are company created. I will say for the central Great Plains Pioneer’s Canola Calc is very useful tool for selecting canola planting rate providing input for row spacing live plants, seed weight, Germ percent, and survival percent.
To wrap up this blog I want to share with you may new Favorite none ag app. Bump is a huge time saver for anyone who takes pics with your iPhone or iPad. Bump allows easy transfer between mobile devices but more importantly between your mobile device and desktop by a simple tap of the space bar. This file share will go both directions. This means no more emailing pictures from your phone so that you can have them on your desktop. Bump is a iPhone app that can work on the iPad.
When searching with an IPad, remember to switch the search to include IPhone apps, there are some good ones out there that are IPhone only. Check out www.npk.osktate.edu/presentations to see screen shots from many of my favorite apps.