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osunpk

osunpk

Since 2008 I have served as the Precision Nutrient Management Extension Specialist for Oklahoma State University. I work in Wheat, Corn, Sorghum, Cotton, Soybean, Canola, Sweet Sorghum, Sesame, Pasture/Hay. My work focuses on providing information and tools to producers that will lead to improved nutrient management practices and increased profitability of Oklahoma production agriculture

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Soil sample handling practices can affect soil nitrate test accuracy

From Guest Authors,
Bryan Rutter, PhD student and Soil Testing Lab Manager, Kansas State University
Dr. Dorivar Ruiz Diaz, Soil Fertility Specialist, Kansas State University

The accuracy of a soil test is limited, in part, by the quality of the tested sample. For this reason, strong emphasis is placed on ensuring representative samples are collected in the field. However, these samples must also be handled properly after they have been collected.

Soils are home to a diverse population of microorganisms, many of which help decompose crop residue and cycle nutrients in soils. This nutrient cycling is crucial for crop production, but can skew soil test results if it continues in soil samples after they have been collected.

Microorganisms drive the soil nitrogen cycle

The nitrogen (N) cycle in soils is particularly complex and is strongly influenced by microbial activity and, therefore, temperature and soil moisture conditions. Bacteria and fungi consume organic material and use carbon as an energy source. During this process, N contained in the organic matter undergoes several transformations, ultimately converting it to ammonia. This conversion from organic-N to inorganic-N (NH4+, ammonium) is called “mineralization.” Plants can then take up the ammonium (NH4+), or converted to nitrate (NO3) by certain bacteria through a process known as “nitrification”.

The microbial activity requires moisture and heat, and the processes described above happen more quickly in warm, wet soils than in cold, dry soils. Microbial activity does not stop just because a sample has been collected and put in a bag. This activity continues as long as the environmental conditions are favorable. As a result, soil tests for plant-available N have the potential to change substantially if samples are not handled properly. This is an important consideration for growers because these soil test results are used to determine the profile-N credit and, ultimately, adjust N fertilizer recommendations.

Research study on soil sample storage

A recent study at the K-State Soil Testing Lab illustrates what can happen if sample submission is delayed.  For this study, soil was collected from the Agronomy North Farm (Manhattan, KS) and thoroughly mixed/sieved to homogenize the material. This soil was then placed into sample bags, which were randomly assigned to different combinations of storage temperature and duration. One set of samples was kept in a refrigerator while the other set was kept in a cargo box in a truck bed. To monitor changes in soil test levels over time, three sample bags were removed from the refrigerator and truck box every two days (48 hours) and tested in the lab.

Figure 1. Change in soil test nitrogen parameters over a 14-day storage period. Samples stored in an unrefrigerated cargo box are indicated by purple points. Samples stored in a refrigerator (38F) are indicated by grey points. Graphs by Bryan Rutter, K-State Research and Extension.

Figure 1. Change in soil test nitrogen parameters over a 14-day storage period. Samples stored in an unrefrigerated cargo box are indicated by purple points. Samples stored in a refrigerator (38F) are indicated by grey points. Graphs by Bryan Rutter, K-State Research and Extension.

Figure 2. Difference in the soil test nitrogen credits between refrigerated and unrefrigerated samples over a 14-day storage period. Profile-N credits assume a 24-inch profile soil sample depth, and are calculated as:  N ppm x 0.3 x 24 inches. Graph by Bryan Rutter, K-State Research and Extension.

Take home points from the K-State Soil Testing Lab study:

  • Mineralization and nitrification led to more than a 3x increase in soil test nitrate in the undried and unrefrigerated “Truck Cargo Box” samples (purple points in Figure 1).
  • Soil test nitrogen did not change substantially in refrigerated samples.
  • Profile-N credits calculated from soil test N results were nearly 100 lbs of N/acre higher for the unrefrigerated samples (Figure 2).
  • Improper handling and storage of soil samples can dramatically reduce soil test accuracy and may lead to under or overfertilizing crops.

K-State Soil Testing Lab Recommendations

  • Submit soil samples to the lab as soon as possible, ideally on the same day they were collected.
  • If same-day submission is not possible, samples should be air-dried or placed in a refrigerator set at 40 degrees F or less.

Please see the accompanying article “The challenge of collecting a representative soil sample” for guidance on field soil sampling practices.

For detailed instructions on submitting soil samples to the K-State Soil Testing Lab, please see the accompanying article “Fall soil sampling: Sample collection and submission to K-State Soil Testing Lab”.

For detailed information on how N credits are calculated please see the MF-2586 fact sheet: “Soil Test Interpretations and Fertilizers Recommendations”.

Bryan Rutter, PhD student and Soil Testing Lab Manager
rutter@ksu.edu

Dorivar Ruiz Diaz, Soil Fertility Specialist
ruizdiaz@ksu.edu

The original article can be found on the KSU Agronomy E-update site
https://eupdate.agronomy.ksu.edu/article_new/soil-sample-handling-practices-can-affect-soil-nitrate-test-accuracy-511-4

Phosphorus decisions, Is it worth cutting P?

With the current conditions and input cost many wheat producers are considering cutting back on inputs. I can’t disagree with the plan, but I would caution against what you cut. If you have read any of my past blogs, or seen me speak, you should know I’m all for cutting back on pre-plant nitrogen (N). Based on some recent trials I would not argue cutting the potassium (K) side, but phosphorus (P) that’s another story that we will walk through in this blog.

First and foremost, soil testing is the key to P management. If your soil test is below the critical threshold for the test you use, 32.5 for Mehlich 3 (M3P), then you need to add phos. We have enough work that shows current recommendations work for P in wheat. Reeds paper Evaluation of incorporated phosphorus fertilizer recommendations on no-till managed winter wheat Link to Paper goes over soil test recommendations in no-till and the recent double crop soybean project Double Crop P and K Blog highlights the importance of P fertility, regardless of yield level. Also if your soil test is below a 5.5 and you haven’t limed (Liming is the best solution, Band-aids not so cheap Blog ), then the next best option is adding additional P to alleviate the aluminum toxicity Band-aids for low pH Blog. In-short if the fields soil test P and or pH is below optimum you should not forgo P application.

But the primary reason I am writing this blog is for those looking at fields with composite soil test that is right around the critical thresholds, and they are trying to make the call on to apply P or not to apply P. Even on fields with soil test values in the good level, I am usually in favor of banding in-furrow fertilizer wheat, but not because of the same reasons I am for corn. With corn you are planting in cool soils and the availability of nutrients like P is lower in cool wet soils. For wheat cold soil isn’t the concern until we reach the end of the planting window. It will serve as a bit of a “pop-up” as the crop comes out of dormancy in the spring. I have also seen little to no value of N applied in furrow. I see same response to DAP (18-46-0), MAP (11-52-0), and TSP (0-46-0) when all applied at same rate of P. Meaning it was the P not N making the difference.

For me the reason I still recommend getting a little phosphate out even when the soil test comes back is that the great majority of fields have a large range of variability. Looking at a set of 650 grid sampled fields across Oklahoma and Kansas it showed on average soil pH 6.0 and M3P was 34 ppm. Both pH and P are at adequate/optimum levels. However, the average is usually somewhere between the low and high point and in this data set and the range of soil pH was 1.8 units and the range in M3P was 67 ppm. That meant on average of the 648 field with pH values the average difference between low pH and high pH was 1.8 units and the difference between low P and high P was 64 ppm.

Summary of grid soil sample data from fields in Oklahoma and Kansas. Data shared by participating farmers and consultants. Data presented is the number of fields in summarized for each variable, the Average value is what we expect as the average composited field value, the Range is the average difference between the min and the max of all fields.

The field below is from Kingfisher county and was sampled at a resolution of 10 acres per sample. This is a fairly course resolution for grid sampling but provides a great view of how variable our soils can be. The field average pH is 5.3, which is below optimum but our aluminum tolerant wheats would be able to handle fairly well. For the P the average is 22 ppm which needs about 18 lbs of P2O5 to max yields. If the farmer applied a flat rate of 20 lbs there would be significant forage loss on about 65% of the field, for grain only about 45% of the field due to underapplication of P. Note that low P and low pH are not correlated well, meaning the areas low in pH are not always low in P.

Example of a grid soil sampled field from west central Oklahoma. Field sampled at a 10 ac resolution. Even at such a course sampling; soil pH averaged 5.3 with range of 4.7 to 6.8, Soil test P average 20 ppm with a range of 7 to 40 ppm.

Banding P makes it more efficient because it slows the rate of tie. However, we have plenty data that says broadcast applied P is still a great option, even after planting. So what are my take homes from this blog?

First: If you are grazing wheat get down 40-50 lbs of N pre. But I have plenty of data the pre-plant N on grain only wheat is not needed. I have the same amount of data that shows the only value of in-furrow N for grain only is that it forces you to plant more seeds, because it just lowers stand.

Second: When it comes to wheat pay attention to Phosphorus and soil pH. Even our acid tolerant wheats preform better in neutral soil pHs, especially forage wise.

Third: A composite soil sample is an AVERAGE of the field. If your average is right at the ok level (pH of 5.6ish and M3P of 30 ppm), then half of your field is below optimum and will benefit from P.

Fourth: If you can band P great, but if you cant broadcast is still a viable option. Do Not Skip P when soil test says there is a need.

Questions or comments please feel free to reach out.
Brian Arnall b.arnall@okstate.edu

Impact of Nitrogen timing 2021-22 Version

Raedan Sharry, Ph.D. Student Precision Nutrient Management

As wheat planting rapidly approaches for some and gets underway for others, it is without a doubt worth considering the current moisture conditions, the near-term outlook, and how that might influence N management decisions. There is plenty of information located in this blog and many other resources that show the benefits of delayed N management in crops. This is particularly true when considering an extremely long growing season for winter wheat in the southern plains. Given our current soil moisture situation yield expectations given the current soil moisture may be limited until replenishing precipitation occurs. This has many questioning their N management plan.

Often when talking about the past N timing results How Late Can You Wait there are comments about the risk of waiting and the crop needing N to get going. Most of the work in the past looked at a single application of N applied at different times and didn’t address split application. But the data from a couple of trials located at Perkins and Perry Oklahoma in the 21-22 season is reinforcing what the past data suggest. These trials consisted of 2 varieties with a 0 N check and 9 combinations of N timings to at 90lbs rate and 3 timings at 140 lbs. of N. Ammonium nitrate (34-0-0) was the N source used in this study to limit the impact of urea volatilization. For both locations we have pre-plant soil test results for the 0-6 and 6-12 inch depths. Both locations at about 30 lbs of total N and OM of 2.0% in the top 6 inches.

Table 1. Treatments from 2 N studies located at Perkins and Perry Oklahoma. (TD=Top-Dress) Applications were made pre plant, 1/10/22, and 3/24/22.

The varietal component of this study doesn’t matter in this context so we will leave them unnamed as both cultivars responded very similar to nitrogen timing and rate within each location. The first thing to highlight is both trials were sown in mid-October. October 19th and October 21st to be exact. Both locations received timely rainfall to start the season with approximately 1.5 inches of precipitation falling in half-inch increments between October 25th and November 10th. Top-dress applications in January and March were made on 1/10/22 and 3/24/22 respectively. After the early rainfall events the season was largely dry up until the precipitation in mid-march. So pre-plant fertilizer was incorporated in a fairly timely manner however the January application was applied almost a month before meaningful precipitation occurred.  The March application missed the only productive rainfall event until the end of April however this occurred solely due to the application trigger being based on reaching the jointing stage.

Figure 1. Rainfall (inch) for the 21-22 wheat growing season.

If we take what is stated above into consideration it would be hard to imagine that January applied N would provide a boost over pre-plant. The data says different. At both locations pre-plant N cost us bushels compared to treatments containing fertilizer only in January. Even splitting the application did not produce the same result as treatments that only apply N in-season. At the Perry location at the 90 lb. total rate there was no yield difference between any split applications and the 0-90-0 application making the January application more cost effective. While there were no split application treatments made at the 140 lb. rate the 0-140-0 treatment (140 lbs. applied in January) maximized yield. I also think it is important to note that if the March applications would have been applied prior to the rain event immediately preceding them the March application likely would have AT LEAST been competitive with the other treatments given previous research focusing on delayed N applications. Statistically the 90-0-0 and 0-0-90 were in the same grouping for both cultivars.

Figure 2. 2021-22 winter wheat grain yield at Perry, OK. Black bar variety 1, orange bar variety 2. Treats labels as rate of N (lbs N per acre Pre – Greenup – Jointing  i.e. 0-0-0

At the Perkins location the results were not much difference as far as impact of timing. In-fact except for Var 1 at Perkins 0-140-0 was statistically better than all other treatments. Also expect for Var 1 at Perry the 0-90-0 and 140-0-0 were statistically the same. In all cases 90-0-0 yielded less than 0-90-0 but it was not statistical for all comparisons.

Figure 3. 2021-22 winter wheat grain yield at Perkins, OK. . Black bar variety 1, orange bar variety 2. Treats labels as rate of N (lbs N per acre Pre – Greenup – Jointing  i.e. 0-0-0

The timing component is important as it shows that we are perfectly capable of applying N in-season and being successful. In-fact this work, and other work is starting to show that contrary to past beliefs, split application is not providing any benefit over a single well-timed application.   The source of N of this project needs to be consider as the January top-dress application sat on the surface for almost a month before finally receiving just under two-tenths of an inch of precipitation. We will have another blog coming out soon looking at the impact of N sources urea versus UAN when applied in Fall, January, or March very soon.

With these results in mind and current moisture conditions it is only reasonable to consider delayed nitrogen application, not only to increase nitrogen use efficiency and possibly increase yields as well as a virtually guaranteed increase in grain protein, but also as a way to hedge your bet against fertilizer application cost. This work and all the past work support that grain only wheat does not benefit from the application of pre-plant N.  By applying N fertilizer now there is a chance that it may become a sunk cost with a poor performing or even failed crop. And if it does start raining, well that pre-plant N will be right there ready to be leached. Being efficient is important in the tight years, and by delaying N application until you are sure the crop requires it may save you a pretty penny or more.

Questions or comments please feel free to reach out.
Brian Arnall b.arnall@okstate.edu
Acknowledgements:  EDC Ag Products Co LLC for support of this project.
Oklahoma Wheat Commission and Oklahoma Fertilizer Checkoff for Funding.

Top-dress Wheat with P and K ??

Brian Arnall, Precision Nutrient Management Extension Specialist
Hunter Lovewell, Past PNM MS student.

Original Blog Name: Managing P and K in a wheat Double-crop Soybean System.
I planned to wait until the soybean yields came in to share the data from this project, but the wheat results are just too interesting this year.

So the trial posed the question, when is the best time to apply the phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) for the soybean crop in a wheat double crop soybean system, if any is needed above what is applied for the wheat crop. We applied the wheat’s P&K at establishment, but the soybeans P&K was applied either at wheat establishment, top-dress wheat timing, or post wheat harvest pre soybean planting. We used the sources of granular triple super phosphate (0-46-0) and potash (0-0-60) for all applications. We hypothesized the wheat crop would not benefit from the soybeans portion of P&K and that the top-dress application timing for the soybeans P&K would result in the greatest soybean yields.

The trials consisted of thirteen treatments replicated four times. Phosphorus and K rates were determined using Oklahoma State University (OSU) recommendations based on pre-plant soil test, Mehlich 3 P. Treatments with a “+” to the right of a letter represent adding the recommended double-crop fertility to the recommended rate needed for the wheat crop of that same nutrient.

So far, we have six site years with completed cycles with locations at the Eastern Research Station (ERS) near Haskell, Oklahoma, Ballagh Family Research Farm (BF) near Newkirk, Oklahoma, Skagg Family Farm (SF) near Lamont, Oklahoma, and Lake Carl Blackwell Research Farm (LCB) near Perry, Oklahoma. The research was conducted during the 2019-2020 growing season and the 2020-2021 growing season. For the 2021-2022 cycle we added two more locations one again on the Skagg Family farm and the second on a new cooperator, O’Neil Farms (OF) near Ponca City.  For all locations no P or K was applied by the farmers at any point, but they did manage IPM. See location descriptions below.

Location names, years, soil series name, texture classification and soil test pH, P, and K results. For P and K rates based upon soil test results see the OSU Factsheet PSS-2225 https://extension.okstate.edu/fact-sheets/osu-soil-test-interpretations.html

The first two years of work is written up in Mr. Hunter Lovewell’s thesis titled “EFFECTS OF PHOSPHOROUS AND POTASSIUM APPLICATION TIMING ON A WHEAT DOUBLE-CROP SOYBEAN SYSTEM” which I can share with those interested. To be honest, Hunter had a couple tough seasons. Basically where wheat did well, beans typically failed and where you had good beans the previous wheat had failed. All the same he had some interesting results. What follows is pulled from his conclusions.

“While a significant response to the application of P and K was limited, the results show that there are environments in which the wheat crop can benefit from additional P and K fertilizer applied for the soybean crop. In the case of the soil (SF-SH) with low M3P and an acidic soil pH, the additional P applied during the winter wheat growing season, intended for soybeans, alleviated the aluminum toxicity issues with acidic pH, increasing wheat yields. Beyond the single location with low soil test P and pH no other significant response was found to the addition of and P. This may be explained in that most locations were only marginally deficient P and the majority of the varieties used in the study were considered to have acid soil tolerance. Penn and Arnall (2015) found that cultivars with aluminum tolerance had increased P use efficiency. The BF location showed a significant wheat grain yield response to the K fertilization, but the additional K applied for the soybean crop showed no benefit for the wheat crop. While there was no significant increase in soybean grain yield to the additional K fertilizer observations suggest that the application of K fertilizer for soybeans may be of benefit. As was mentioned before the double-crop system is susceptible to yield-limiting conditions, heat, and moisture, due to the maturity of the crop during the peak summer months. The soybean grain yields achieved in this study were all below the previous five-year yield average for all the locations. The low achieved yields and crop stress may have limited this study’s ability to identify a significant response to the application of fertilizer. “

So, one of the most interesting finding from the first six sites was that topdressing P increased yield of the wheat crop on the soil that had low pH and P. And since the P recs applied were only considering STP values and not soil pH, we had underapplied P for the wheat.

Now moving on to the 2021-22 season. Well as most of the famers know, this season has been a doozy. That said, we were not able to establish the treatments until February 1st. Therefor in the case of the 2021-22 wheat season the first application of P&K was made at top-dress timing and then the second application was made post wheat harvest. So, we are unable to say how a preplant wheat P&K application would have performed. But the wheat grain yield response to P&K was better than I could have ever imagined.

Rainfall totals for January-June for the Medford (Skaggs, SF-Nfld) and Burbank (O’Neil, OS) mesonet locations. http://www.mesonet.org

The rain post application (Feb 1st) was marginal but better than other areas in the central/southern Plains. There was about 1” of precipitation in February, almost 3” in March and under 0.2” in April. May rains for the OF site near Burbank aided in allowing the yields to climb, maxed out at 82 bushels per acre, while the SF-Nfld missed out on many of the late rains and yields topped out at 39 bushels.

Winter wheat grain yields from the Skaggs SF-Nfld and O’Neil ON fields. Phosphorus and potassium treatments applied on February 1st at rates based upon soil test and OSU recommendations.

At both sites there is a clear and distinct response to P fertilizer. Note the N and NK treatments significantly lower than all other treatments. The last column on each figure title NPK is the average of all other treatments that only received the wheats P&K rate and had yet had the soybeans P&K applications.

We were able to statistically analyze the locations together by calculating a relative yield for each location. This is done by dividing the yield of each plot by the yield of the N only treatment, we did this for each replication. We then ran a t-test to look at significant treatment difference, so below any treatments that has the letters above the columns, such as an ab and b, are not statistically different at a 95% level.  

Relative grain yield (Trt yld / N trt yld) for both of the 2021-22 locations. Treatments with same letters over column not significant based on, t-Test LSD ran at alpha = 0.05. Black column represent additional treatments which were fertilized with additional P&K after winter wheat grain harvest.

The relative yield data was able to confirm that across both locations an application of P in February significantly increased yields at a consistent level of 30-50%.  It is interesting that while the NP+K+ treatment almost sorts out as being statistically the highest.

While I am not even close to suggesting that you should delay application of P fertilizer in wheat production, I am a big fan of in-furrow applications, this work does point to opportunities. Such as the ability to return to the field after the wheat is up and apply broadcast P if perhaps you could not at planting. But specifically, the potential for in-season Variable Rate phosphorus based upon crop response, maybe a P-Rich strip. What I can tell you this means is that I have more work to do. First, I need a better understand of when and where this is possible. Then it is time to figure out how to use this to our advantage to more efficiently use P fertilizer.
I do want to reiterate, I am not suggesting to move away from Preplant P nor in-furrow.

Keep an eye out for the soybean data because hopefully we catch a few good rains and find out if the timing of P&K will impact the double crop yields.

I want to send a big Thank you to all the cooperators who have put up with me and my time over years to get this data and the Oklahoma Soybean Board for their continued support of this project.

Feel free to send any questions for comments my way at b.arnall@okstate.edu

In-season N application methods for Sorghum

Raedan Sharry, Ph.D. candidate under advisement of B. Arnall
Brian Arnall, Precision Nutrient Management Specialist

The data about to be reported is from the study we have fondly named “Burn Baby Burn”, you will see why soon enough.

Grain Sorghum production continues to be an important component of many growers crop rotations in the Great Plains. However, for many growers who focus primarily on small grains production, equipment restraints may impose limits on in season nitrogen (N) management. When producers are able to delay the application until in-season it helps to ensure that N is available to the crop at the time of increased uptake during the reproductive stages of the crops life. Producers often have access to equipment and technologies that may be used to take advantage of improved N application timing, but may worry about the negative effects that nitrogen can have if the fertilizer is inadvertently applied to plant material. An experiment was initiated in Central Oklahoma to evaluate the yield response of grain sorghum to in-season nitrogen application methods.

Trials were placed at Lake Carl Blackwell near Stillwater, Perkins and Chickasha Oklahoma and included 9 in-season fertilization methods and a 0 nitrogen control. Treatments are listed in Table 1 below.

In total 120 lbs of N was applied to all treatments receiving in-season applications. 60 lbs was applied at planting to all treatments including the “Zero N Control”. The remaining 60 lbs. of N was applied according to application method in-season. The urea was applied by hand and the liquid treatments a push cart with adjustable boom height (Figure 1) was used to apply the UAN. Applications were made mid day at V8 growth stage. The temperature at the time of all applications was about 90 F and humidity below 75%. Nozzle position for 30″ and 60″ was set for between rows.

Figure 1 In-season nitrogen application using the T-bar 20″ treatment.

At two of the three locations (Stillwater and Perkins) the addition of 60 lbs. of N in-season increased yield above the control treatment. At the Stillwater (Lake Carl Blackwell) location there were no statistical differences (α=0.05) between in-season fertilized treatments except the T-Bar 20” treatment (Figure 2). The Perkins location (Figure 3) provided a similar result in which again there was no statistical difference between fertilized treatments, excluding the T-Bar 20” treatment.

Figure 2. Grain yield (bu/ac) in a grain sorghum N application study located near Stillwater, OK.
Figure 3. Grain yield (bu/ac) in a grain sorghum N application study located at Perkins, OK.

The Chickasha location differed in that additional in-season nitrogen did not improve yield (Figure 4). While we want a response to applied N, in the case it allows use to solely evaluate the impact of burn associated with N application. The T-bar 20” treatment statistically negatively impacted grain yield and the FlatFan-20″ did at α=0.10, which means we are only 90% confident the yield lose was due to treatment. This response has been consistent across all three locations, on average decreasing yield approximately 21 bu/ac relative to the individual site grain yield average.

Figure 4. Grain yield (bu/ac) of a grain sorghum N application study at Chickasha, OK.

Even though it was mentioned for Chickasha, it is also important to note that while it was not statistically significant (α=0.05) the FF- 20” treatment (Flat Fan nozzles above canopy on 20” spacing) trended towards decreasing yields at all 3 locations and is likely detrimental to crop performance. At all locations substantial damage to leaf material was observed, similar to that pictured in Figure 5 below. Several of the treatments damaged leaf material on the plant through burn injury, but most were not negatively impactful on grain yield in the 2021 growing season. Grain sorghum yield did not benefit from moving the application point below the canopy using drop attachments, nor did adjusting nozzle spacing from 30 to 60”.  Source was not a significant factor impacting grain yield regardless of it application method.

Figure 5. Aerial image of plots located at Perkins, OK in a grain sorghum in-season nitrogen application study.

The observations from this study show that many of the in-season nitrogen application methods that are available to growers will not negatively impact yield. This however does not apply to tools such as the T-Bar. Similar tools that concentrate large amounts of N to leaf material are also likely to produce similar results.  It is important to note that the T-bar was used on 20” spacings and not tested otherwise. Moving the spacing of the T-bar may lead to different results.

Growers who are looking to move N applications in their grain sorghum crop to in-season to capture the benefits associated will likely be able to with equipment that is already available to them. While leaf damage may be observed under sub-optimal application methods, damage is unlikely to contribute to significant yield loss. However, growers should keep in mind that environmental conditions may have a significant impact on the results seen from these types of application as growers should always look to limit stress to the plant when possible.

We of course will be putting out a second year of this study and will share the results when we can.

For more information or questions contact
Brian Arnall b.arnall@okstate.edu 405.744.1722

Can Grain Sorghum Wait on Nitrogen? One more year of data.

Michaela Smith, Ph.D. candidate under advisement of B. Arnall
Brian Arnall, Precision Nutrient Management Specialist

The impressive ability of sorghum to recover from significant N stress with late applied nitrogen was originally reported in the blog “Can grain sorghum wait on nitrogen”. This projected was replicated again in 2021 and these are the results. During the 2021 growing season, frequency of rainfall events and amounts were similar to the 2020 growing season. Figure 1. shows the application dates and rainfall events.

Planting date and date of Preplant N was April 27, 2022. Graph downloaded from the Oklahoma Mesonet.
Table 1. Planting information for the 2021 delayed nitrogen trial. Dekalb 3307 is labeled as a 61 day to mid-bloom cultivar.

Statistically there was no significant difference in grain yield from the pre-plant (0) and any application up to the 56 day application. This data matches up quite well the yield results from 2020.

Figure 2. Grain sorghum yield results for the 2021 delayed nitrogen study.

Looking and the current soil moisture conditions (Figure 3.) and fertilizer price I think this data supports the recommendation to get the seed in the ground and see how the situation plays out. If there are decent rains at and shortly after planting then there is time to apply nitrogen with little risk of yield loss. If fact the weather during late May and early June provide some of the best chances to getting the fertilizer rained in (Figure 4) . If the weather doesn’t cooperate and provide us the much needed rains, then by waiting to apply we are not left with a lot of Expensive nitrogen setting out in the field of a failed crop.

Final Thoughts Heading into the 2021 Sorghum Planting Season.
– Make sure you have a soil sample, knowing P and K will be critical.
– No need to front load N fertilizer, especially if soil moisture is short.
– Utilize in-furrow P if soil pH and or soil test P is low.
– If you skip pre-plant N APPLY N-RICH STRIPS!!!!
– If you apply pre-plant N consider applying 50% of the expected N or less.
– If you are applying any level of pre-plant N, Create Zero-N Strips.

Figure 3. 32-inch plant available water downloaded from the Oklahoma Mesonet on April 6, 2022.
Figure 4. Probably of rainfall for the Breckinridge Mesonet location for the grain sorghum growing season.

For more information or questions contact
Brian Arnall b.arnall@okstate.edu 405.744.1722

Special thanks to EDC Ag Products Co LLC for suppling NH4NO3 used in the delayed N project.

Original Post March 22, 2022.
Data for this post available in thesis Impact of delayed nitrogen application in grain sorghum
Smith, Michaela Lynn (2021-05). Available at https://shareok.org/discover

            Grain sorghum producers in Oklahoma are challenged greatly by their environment and sporadic rainfall patterns, which diminish as the season progresses. These uncontrollable variables influence timing of nitrogen (N) application and nitrogen use efficiency. Using rainfall events as an incorporation method forces producers to apply before the event regardless of its intensity or delay application until field conditions are acceptable while anxiously waiting for another rainfall event. When deciding to delay N application it’s important to know the effects on physiological development and grain yield.

Figure 1. Field trial at Perkins, showing visual heading differences among nitrogen application timings. Timing from left to right were made 49 DAP, CHECK, 63 DAP.

Trial structure and breakdown

            This study was conducted over the 2020 growing season consisting four locations, including one double cropping system following wheat. Ten in-season applications were made using ammonium nitrate (AN) as the N source at a rate of 90 lbs. ac. Using AN as the N source reduced the risk of nitrogen loss through the process of volatilization as the goal of the research was to test the plant not the fertilizer. A pre-plant treatment served as the standard check, while in-season applications were initiated at 21 Days After Planting (DAP) and applications made sequentially at 7-day intervals. A non-fertilized check was included to the study to confirm locations were responsive to N fertilized applications Hybrid, plant date, and seeding rate can be found in Table 1.

Table 1. Planting information or the delayed nitrogen sorghum trials.

Physiological Response to Application Timing

            Two of the four locations demonstrated an effect to physiological development and maturity with the delay of nitrogen application. A delay in heading by a one to two-week period was observed at Perkins and Lahoma for applications made after May 21st (Table 2.). This delay in heading contributed to similar delay in maturity and potential harvest date. At Perkins decreased plant height was observed in the pre-plant plot and was associated with the onset of late season nitrogen deficiency (Figure 2). While this response was unexpected, the impact of nitrogen deficiency experienced early in the crop growth on the root and shoot growth has been well documented in many species. As a plant experiences nitrogen limitations growth changes from above ground to the below ground parts (roots) in an attempt to alleviate nitrogen stress. This increase in root growth could contribute to a more efficient uptake of nitrogen and decrease loss. In contrast to Figure 2, pre-plant application is shorter than compared to later season applications, this could be a result of inadequate N uptake thus leading to N loss by leaching, whereas later applications had increased root growth for efficient N interception and uptake.

Table 2. Delay in Heading for the Perkins (gray) and Lahoma (green). Letters indicate the start and finish of heading. S represent the start of heading while F indicants the finish of heading, SF denote treatments the started heading and finished within the same week.
Figure 2. Visual maturity differences between nitrogen application timings. Timing of applications are listed within the figure.

Yield Response to Application Timing

Response of N was observed at all locations (Figure 3), while the delay of nitrogen varied in its effects across all locations. Grain yield from each N application was compared back to the pre-plant application to evaluate the effects of timing. All four locations responded positively to N fertilizer.  At both LCB and Lahoma grain yield was maintained with applications made as late as 42 to 63 DAP respectively before any negative trend in grain yield was observed. Perkins was the only locations to have a statistically significant increase in grain yield due to delayed N applications. At this site, which is a sandy loam, waiting until 42 DAP resulted in a 15 bushel increase over the pre-plant plot. Now Alva which was double crop showed that rainfall is key.  At this site, none of the in-season treatments made it up the level of the pre-plant. The reason for this will be discussed further below.

Figure 3. Grain sorghum yield results from the nitrogen timing studies conducted at four locations in Oklahoma.

Influence of Rainfall

            The loss in grain yield at Perkins in the pre-plant application could likely be reflective of nitrogen loss due to leaching. Pre-plant applications have been well documented in the aspect loss as a result of crop requirement and early physiological development. Long term mesonet rainfall data depicts a decline in the probability of rainfall with the progression of the growing season across all locations. In early season the probability of 0.5 inches of rainfall ranges from 8 to 10% respectively for LCB, Lahoma, and Perkins, and dramatically decline to percentages at low as 5% in mid-July during grain filling period. For Alva rainfall probability is substantially lower as its season was initiated during the drier months, which depicted a probability of 6% for 0.5 inches of rainfall, and 4.5% for 1 inch for early season rainfall crucial for pre-plant incorporation and crop establishment. These probabilities drop considerably compared to regular season as the months progress onward, mid to late August probability for 0.5 inches ranges from 0.8 to 11.5%, while for a 1 inch is 0 to 6.9%. Past weather data provided by the mesonet illustrates how later in the season rainfall and its amount is variable, suggesting that in a double crop scenario delayed application is not recommended while it is in regular season crop due to the increased chance of rainfall probability. 

Summary

            The purpose of this study was to evaluate the impacts of delayed nitrogen application in grain sorghum. In order to develop an accurate conclusion additional site years are required, although current data could suggest delaying nitrogen application for full season grain sorghum is possible without a detrimental loss in grain yield. This means producers have time to evaluate the crop and market to determine if more inputs are needed and economical, while allowing implementation of technologies such as the N-Rich Strip and SBNRC.

If you have any questions for comments please reach out.
Brian Arnall
b.arnall@okstate.edu
405.744.1722

Acknowledgement of EDC Ag Products Co LLC for support of this project.

Utilizing N fixing biologicals.

In the past couple years significant efforts have been made to produce N fixing microorganisms that can be utilized in an agriculture system. The atmosphere is 78% N2 and prokaryotic microorganisms such as the bacteria species Azotobacter, Bacillus, Clostridium, and Klebsiella take that N2 gas and turn it into plant available NH4. These organisms have been around providing nitrogen for plants, for as long as there has been plants. In agriculture we have heavily utilized their relationship with legumes however have struggled bringing them into other realms of production. Naturally they tend to be found in areas that are very low levels of nitrogen. For example, prokaryotes were found in the un-fertilized check of the 130-year-old Magruder Plots but are not found any other treatment that receives fertilizer organic or commercial.

 Nitrogen-fixing nodules on soybean roots. Image credit: Bo Ren, Purdue University

Now there are several products marketed as containing N fixing microorganisms suited for use in today’s corn, sorghum, and wheat production. While I have an active research program evaluating the use of such materials in Oklahoma, this blog will not address what works or how well. This blog will touch upon my thoughts on how to utilize a technology such as this if you pull the trigger to implement.

So there is one key to getting a ROI on products that create plant available nitrogen, and it’s a really simple key.
Under Apply Nitrogen
If you apply enough or more N than the crops needs, then there is ZERO value in a product that creates more N. For example, applying one of these products in your 250-bushel yield goal corn after you’ve already laid down 300 lbs of N preplant. Unless you lose it all to leaching, your probability of seeing a ROI on your biological investment is pretty poor. I have a hard time understanding the thought process behind paying for a N fixing product and not lowering your fertilizer rate. I can see one of two reasons. 1) You believe you historically under apply N and are losing yield because of such 2) Are in an environment which has a high potential of late season N losses, and you are unable to make recovery applications.

So what to do if using a N Fixer? I do not have the confidence yet to say, “Apply X product, it will produce Y lbs of N, so cut your rate by Y lbs”. That uncertainty is one of the greatest challenges, not knowing will I get 10 lbs or 40 lbs? If I did, then I would just subtract that off my planned rate. Side note, as someone who has been doing on farm N rate studies for a decade plus, I would have to add that most were likely over applying by that much and could cut back anyways. For me the use of the N Fixers should force your hand into utilizing in-season N applications, regardless the crop. So that you can better predict or determine impact of the product.

This is where the use of a refence strip (N-Rich or Zero N) is the golden ticket. We need a way to quickly evaluate the amount of N the crop has access to. The N-Rich method works best when preplant N is drawn way back. I would add that reduced pre-plant is a great scenario for N Fixers. The N-Rich in comparison to the rest of the field will provide you guidance towards your in-season goals. If the N-Fixers are doing a great job the N-Rich will not be showing up any time soon and you can make your N rate adjustments accordingly. If you are a Pre-plant or die kind of farmer, then I say you need to pull back the reins on the preplant rate but give the N Fixers some room to add value and add in your Zero N strips. These will again let you observe what is happening in the soil apart from your fertilizer. If it is getting on the late side of in-season N and you cannot find your zero, might be a good time to walk away and hang up the fertilizer applicator keys. I have lots of blogs and pubs on the use of reference strip so send me a note if you want to dive further into these approaches.

Nitrogen Rich Strips being applied in winter wheat. Photo credit: Zack Rendel, Rendel Farms Miami Oklahoma.

Feel free to reach out with questions or comments. B.arnall@okstate.edu

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Its dry and nitrogen cost a lot, what now?

The title says a lot about the primary question I am receiving right now. And the latest long range “forecast” does not make me feel any better about the current situation. But it is what it is and many great plains wheat farmers are having to make a decision.

The current situation in the wheat belt is that we are dry to depth, when the 32 inch PAW is on short supply and this comes from a combination of no rain and above average temperatures.

Average 32-inch Plant Available Water. Graph retrieved from Mesonet on January 20th, 2022.
120-Day rainfall accumulation across Oklahoma. Graph retrieved from Mesonet on January 20th, 2022. Start data of this time frame is September 22, 2021
The daily average temperature departure from the 15 year mean temperature for the Lahoma Research Station. The Mesonet long-term averages utilize 15 years of daily data (e.g. daily average, daily maximum/minimum, or daily total) for every current and past Oklahoma Mesonet station.

Fertilizer prices are holding fairly strong, at expensive, and the wheat crop currently seems to be going in reverse. So what is a wheat farmer to do? If we are looking on the bright side the lack of moisture in the surface will help reducing any potential losses through urea volatilization. It does not make the potential for loss zero though. If I am bound and determined to fertilize now, I would be very selective of the source and method of application. The biggest driver, tillage and residue amounts.

  • Conventional Till / No residue (plenty of bare soil showing) and small wheat-
    • UAN via Streamer nozzles
      • Why: With UAN (urea ammonium nitrate) you have a liquid N source that will get onto and into the soil and readily available nitrate. Streaming on will help concentrate the fertilizer and potential reduce any urea volatilization if any dews were to occur. Urea would sit until dissolved and lead to potential losses if the first moisture was heavy dew and not a incorporating rainfall.
  • No-till / high residue (no bare soil showing)-
    • Dry Urea
      • Why: If Our residue is dry when the urea is spread the wind will help push it below the residue surface providing protection until a good rain. If UAN is applied to this dry or even slightly damp residue and not washed off with a rainfall in a week or so the amount of N tied up in that residue will likely be significant.
  • The big wheat (very little bare soil, lots of wheat tissue.
    • Urea or UAN Streamer
      • Why not Flat fan. At least with the current status the wheat is not growing and bigger wheat has increasing levels of tip die back. So while UAN sprayed on actively growing wheat can be absorbed foliarly, stressed wheat can not do it as well. Plus the UAN that hits dead or damaged tissue will not make it into the plant. The UAN applied via flat fan will need incorporation via rain in a couple days.

You may have caught in the paragraph above I said, “If I was bound and determined”. If I had the option I am not pulling the trigger until after I have received some good moisture. I fully expect and have already seen rigs running before every decent chance of rain. Unfortunately many of those chances have not panned out and that will remain my concern moving forward. I want to make sure we have some water in the tank before investing in the system.

But now we increase the risk/fear by waiting and the question I get is what if we don’t get good rains or don’t get good incorporating rains. The short answer is, if we don’t get rains the N application is the least of our concerns. If we approach March 15th and we have not had the rains needed to put a little water in the tank and incorporate the N then we are not likely looking at a bumper crop which will need N. What survives in that scenario will be living off deep soil water, and where there is deep soil water there is a good chance of deep N. The shallow soils will be so stressed that nutrient demand will be very little.

Now lets talk waiting and applying N. How late before we just say we are done. To answer I am going to draw from a data set I talk about a lot, the delayed N work by Dr. Souza. This study was started in the fall of 2016 and concluded with the 2020 wheat harvest. In all, twelve trials were established and achieved maturity. This study was designed to evaluate the recovery of winter wheat grain yield and protein after the crop was N stressed. Treatments included an untreated check, pre-plant application and ten in-season treatments. The application of in-season treatments was initiated when N deficiency was confirmed and treatments were applied in progressive order every seven growing days to the point of 63 growing days after visual deficiency (DAVD). A growing degree days is any day that the average daily temperature is at or above 40⁰ F.  Ammonium nitrate (NH4NO3) was applied at a rate of 90 lbs N ac-1 for all treatments.

With this data we can answer two questions, first at what point did we lose yield compared to pre-plant and second how late could we apply and still increase yield above the check. So comparing to the pre lets us know how long could we wait with losing yield. Across the trials we lost yield three times by waiting too long, at LCB2017b that was 4/19, Lahoma18 it was around 3/30, and then Newkirk2020 we lost yield by waiting until 4/6. This data is why I am pretty comfortable waiting until mid March when and if needed. Now if we look at the check, that will tell us if things start improving late can we get still get a yield bump with added N. Newkirk 2020 was the only time and place we could increase yield above the zero after the 4/14 additions.

Table 1. Date of nitrogen application. Each month is color coded.
Table 2. Evaluation of winter wheat grain yield and protein results compared to the Pre-plant Nitrogen treatment. Red boxes means the treatment yielded statistically lower results, Yellow is no difference, Green means the treatment has increased grain yield or protein. Perkins2018, LSC2018b, and LCB2019, did not have a grain yield respond to N (no red box in Zero check) and therefore will not be discussed.

Take Home Message

My recommendation is that if you are not required to take delivery or needing to cover a lot of acres, i.e. time limited, I would not get in a hurry to apply N on this wheat crop. I think if we combine weather by market this a good time to wait and see. Once we get a rain and have some soil moisture it will be time to run the rigs. The crop currently does not need a lot of N so why spend the $. If things don’t improve by mid to late march, consider the wheat a cover and look towards a summer crop with the hopes of rains in April. If you need to take the crop to yield, then you can wait a while longer and still get a return on the N, with hopes the price could come down a bit.

Finally, While I don’t suggest running fertilizer in front of the first chance of rain, I would make sure I had an N-Rich strip on each and every single field. Strips can go out well past green up and serve a great purpose. The N-Rich strip will help you determine if the crop is able to mine any soil N or if the N tank is dry.

Feel free to reach out with questions or comments.
Brian Arnall Precision Nutrient Management Specialist.
b.arnall@okstate.edu

Special thanks to EDC Ag Products Co LLC for suppling NH4NO3 used in the delayed N project.

Relevant past blogs for your reading enjoyment.

The Easy Button for Nitrogen…….

Brian Arnall, Precision Nutrient Management Extension Specialist.

The basics for nitrogen (N) fertilizer rate determination can be described in a mechanistic approach by the Stanford Equation NFert = ( NCrop – NSoil ) / Neff. This equations states that the N fertilizer rate is equal to the amount of nitrogen taken up by the crop minus the amount of nitrogen supply by the soil, divided by the efficiency of the nitrogen fertilizer used. I outline the importance of this equation in the blog “Components of a variable rate nitrogen recommendations“.

There are nitrogen “Easy Buttons” which utilizes averages collected over diverse environments to create accurate N rate recommendations. The best example of this is the yield goal rules of thumb such as wheats 2.0 lbs N per yield goal bushel minus soil test nitrate. Yield goals are generally calculated as the average of the best 3 out of 5 years, or the 5-year average times 20%. Also, the 2.0 lbs of N is more than what is in a bushel as it also adds in an efficiency factor or a 0.5 lbs per bushel cushion. This method and others like it provide an accurate N rate with slight probability of yield loss. However, the rec is often highly imprecise. Meaning that if I apply the method to 100 fields the average will be spot on, however if I look at the performance of the recommendation on a single field, I will likely be disappointed.

Illustration of accuracy versus precision.
Figure 1. Illustration of accuracy versus precision.

When it comes to nitrogen recommendations the Easy button method will use components which help ensure that the rate prescribed will maximize yield 90-95% of the time. For example, take the data presented in Figure 2. Over fifteen years of the long-term winter wheat fertility study near Lahoma, Oklahoma the average pounds of N per bushel to reach economic optimum nitrogen rate (EONR) was 1.6, however if 2.0 of N was applied per bushel yield would have been maximized 13 out of the 15 years. While 2.0 lbs. of N per bushel would have been quite accurate for maximizing yield, it would be highly imprecise as over the 15 years optimum pounds of N per bushel ranged from 0.0 to 3.2.

Figure 2. Grain yield (bushels per acre), economical optimal N rate (EONR), and pounds of nitrogen per bushel producer at the EONR, from 15 years of data from the long-term fertility trials located near Lahoma, Ok.

The trick to improving your N rate recommendation closer to a precise and accurate system is to obtain representative site-specific values for the Stanford Equation NFert = (NCrop – NSoil) / Neff.

Looking at the 15-year long-term data above the yields range from a low of 27 to a high of 88 bushels. Of those 15 years, I personally planted multiple years, usually sometime in October, and many of those years while sowing I could have guessed a range of 55-60 bushel, which just happened to be just above the 15-year average.   It was not until February and March when the yield potential really started to express itself. Why, well there is a lot of weather between Oct to March, a lot of environmental positive and negative impacts on that final grain yield. This is the best timing to go out with approaches, models, or techniques to estimate yield potential for N rate recs.

While I am a big fan of soil testing, pre-plant soil samples for N are just a snap shot in time. But the While I am a big fan of soil testing, pre-plant soil samples for N are just a snapshot in time, but the nitrogen cycle Figure 3, will roar on after the soil sample is collected. Organic matter (OM) is the central component of this cycle and drives availability of NH4 and NO3 in the system. For each 1% OM in the top 6″ of the soil there is approximately 1000 lbs of organically bound N. The amount of N going into and out of OM pool is driven by C:N ratio of residues, soil temperature and soil moisture. While we very well what the mechanisms of the cycle are and can model the reactions quite well. Our inability to predict long term weather patterns is the greatest factor limiting our ability to predict future availability of NSoil.

Figure 3. Complete Nitrogen Cycle. http://psssoil4234.okstate.edu/lecture

This is where the reader should be asking “how can we get better site specific data” and I begin the discussion on why I have been promoting the of the Sensor Based Nitrogen Rate Calculator (SBNRC) and N-Rich strip method.

Lets talk about how the approach follows Stanford’s mechanistic approach to N management. First the Yield Potential component of the SBNRC which is related to NCrop. In effect researchers have built models over the past two decades that can correlate the NDVI collected from a sensor, such as the GreenSeeker, with the crops biomass and chlorophyll content. If given the number of days the crop has been growing it is possible to use the NDVI collected from the crop as a tool to predict final grain yield. The closer the wheat gets to hollow stem, or the corn gets to tassel, the better the prediction. One reason is that we have allowed more “environmental influence” to happen. Dr. Bill Raun, a founder of the SBNRC concept kept great discussion and data sets on his NUE.OKSTATE.edu website. On the “NUE Website on YP” he provides information on how yield prediction work while on the “NUE Website YP Library” he has not listed every algorithm created, and the math behind them, but also a recipe book for how anyone can create their own algorithm. While there are a lot post sensing stresses that can bring down final grain yield, the models that have been built and continually improved, do quite a good job on predicting final grain yield in-season. Resulting a much more site specific value for NCrop. The blog”Sensing the N-Rich Strip and Using the SBNRC” goes into a further discussion of using the online SBNRC.

That now leaves NSoil, which I will argue is at least as important as NCrop. As weather so greatly influences the nitrogen cycle it would be nice to have a weather station on every field paired with a 0-4 ft soil description which could be incorporated into a model. Given those might be out of reach we have found the the use of a reference strip, high N or low N, really provides an site specific estimate the of nitrogen the crop has access to. If the high N reference (N-Rich) strip is showing up that means the remainder of the field is N deficient. This may be due to losses or lack of mineralization, either way more N is needed. If the N-Rich strip is not evident then the crop is finding enough N outside of the reference strip to support its current growth. This could be that residual N or mineralization is high, or it could mean that crop growth and therefore N demand is low. Having the N check strip in each field allows for a season long evaluation. We can use NDVI to characterize how big or little of a response we have to N. We call this the Response Index (RI). An RI of 1.8 means that we could increase yield by 80% if we add adequate N, if the RI is 1.05 then we are looking at a potential increase of 5%. I have a previous blog which goes into the application of the reference strip. “Nitrogen Rich Strips, a Reminder

Finally we combine the two, YP and RI. By predicting the yield of the area out side the N-Rich strip we can determine environmental yield potential, YP0. Basically what can the field yield if nothing is added. We multiple YP0 by the RI to get the yield potential with added N, YPN. Then its as simple as N rate = (YPN – YP0 ) x N needed per bushel. So for example if YP0 is 40 bushel RI =2, then YPN is 80 bushel. I need to fertilize the additional 40 bushels of wheat and I can use the 2.0 N per bushel can come up with a top-dress rate of 80 lbs N per acre. We are now incorporating site specific in-season NCrop and NSoil data.

And just a reminder for those of you new to my blog, I have a lot of research documenting that it is not only OK, but often best if we wait on N application in wheat and other crops. Value of In-Season N blog.

Every step we take towards the easy button is often a step towards site specific imprecision due to the use of generalized terms or models. Depending on your goals this very well could be acceptable for your operation, but with nitrogen prices as volatile as they are, should we not be considering pushing the easy button to the side, for now. Let’s add a bit of site-specific data so that we can take advantage of the N the system may be giving us, or the yield we did not expect. Let the N-Rich Strip be that first step.

Relevant Peer Review Publications.

In-Season Prediction of Yield Potential Using Wheat Canopy Reflectance,  Agron. J. 93:131-138

Nitrogen Fertilization Optimization Algorithm Based on In-Season Estimates of Yield and Plant Nitrogen Uptake
  J. Plant Nutr. 24:885-898

Real-Time Sensing and N Fertilization with a Field Scale GreenSeeker Applicator

Identifying an In-Season Response Index and the Potential to Increase Wheat Yield with Nitrogen (pdf)

Nitrogen Response Index as a Guide to Fertilizer Management
 

Evaluation of Green, Red, and Near Infrared Bands for Predicting Winter Wheat Biomass, Nitrogen Uptake and Final Grain Yield 

Full List of NUE Publications

If you have any questions please feel free to contact me @ b.arnall@okstate.edu

Nitrogen Rich Strips, a Reminder

With the recent increase in fertilizer prices just prior to winter wheat planting season I felt it was a good opportunity to bring this older post back up and give it an update. Since the blog was originally written in 2013 there has been a lot of work done both to better understand the nitrogen fertilizer need / timing of winter wheat and efforts to updated and improve the algorithms behind the Sensor Based Nitrogen Rate Calculator.

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.  In recent years we have been utilizing Zero-N strips in corn. The approach to some may be 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.  The goal of an N-Rich Strip is to let the field tell you when it needs more N. Research has shown wheat can be yellow and recover completely and it may even be a benefit. See the link for the Value of In-season Nitrogen at the end of this blog.

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.
N-Rich Strips showing up on google earth image. You can see how the strip on the left is darker than the right suggested a greater need for nitrogen.

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 40 to 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.


Also popular are applicators made or adapted for this specific 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.
If this all sounds like to much then the easiest application method might just be a push spreader. No need for trailer or even a truck. In most cases I recommend whichever N 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
Gard N-Rich Strip Applicator, Fairview Ok
Gard N-Rich Strip Applicator, Fairview Ok
Push spreader used by Oklahoma State Cooperative Extension service. Check with your local office. If they don’t have one, we can send one.

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 December or even January everything works. Timing is more about how much the wheat is growing. If it is slow growing fall, timing can be delayed. 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. We have been trying this in Oklahoma and Kansas with good success.  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 spatial 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.  

For more information on N-Rich Strips

Factsheets

https://extension.okstate.edu/fact-sheets/applying-nitrogen-rich-strips.html

https://extension.okstate.edu/fact-sheets/using-the-greenseeker-handheld-sensor-and-sensor-based-nitrogen-rate-calculator.html

https://extension.okstate.edu/fact-sheets/impact-of-sensor-based-nitrogen-management-on-yield-and-soil-quality.html

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