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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.
From trials to phone calls (and text messages, and tweets, and ect. ect) I have gathered a fairly good picture of this years winter wheat nitrogen story. And as normal, nothing was normal. Overall I seen/heard three distinct trends 1) Did not take much to make a lot 2) took a ton to make a lot 3) saw a response (N-rich strip or cow-pow) but fertilizer never kicked in. Covers most of the options, doesn’t it.
The N-rich strips really came out over all very good this year. N-Rich Strip Blog. On average many of those using the N-Rich Strip and SBNRC (SBNRC Blog) producers have been getting in the neighborhood of 1.0-1.3 lbs of N applied per bushel produced. This year the numbers ran from 0.66 to 2.3 lbs of N per bushel. In both extremes I believe it can be explained via the field history and the N-Cycle.
In at least two fields, documented with calibrated yield monitors, the N-Rich Strip and SBNRC lead to massive yields on limited N. One quarter of IBA bumped 86 bpa average on 47 lbs of N while a second quarter, also IBA, managed 94 bpa average on about 52 units of N. We are currently running grain samples from these fields to look protein levels.
The other side of the boat were those with N-Rich strip calling for +2.0 lbs N per bushel. I had received notes from producers without N-rich strips saying that they could predict yield based on the amount of N applied and it was a 2 to 1 ratio. Not always but many of these high N demand fields where wheat following a summer or double crop or corn or sorghum. While many of the low N demand fields were wheat after wheat or wheat after canola. In a rotational study that had been first implemented in the 2014-15 crop year I saw big differences due to previous crop. The picture below was taken in early March. The straw residue in wheat after wheat had just sucked up the nitrogen. While it was evident the residue from the canola broke down at a much more rapid pace releasing any and all residual nutrients early.
The yield differences were striking. The canola rotation benefited the un-fertilized plots by 22 bpa and even with 90 lbs of N applied having canola in the rotation increased yields by 12 bpa. We are looking and grain quality and residual soil sample now. I am sure there will be a more indepth blog to follow.
Another BIG story from the 2015-16 wheat crop was the lack of benefit from any N applied pre-plant. It really took top-dress N this year to make a crop. Due to our wet early fall and prolong cold winter N applied pre was either lost or tied up late. Work by Dr. Ruans Soil Fertility Program really documented the lack luster pre-plant N effect. The figure below shows 4 location of a rate by timing student. The number at the bottom of each graph is a rate by time (30/0 means 30 lbs Pre-0 lbs Top, 60/30 means 60 lbs Pre-30 lbs Top). At every single location 0/60 beat 60/0. Top-dress N was better than Pre-plant N.
The last observation was lack of response from applied N even though the crop was deficient. Seen this in both the NE and NW corners. I would hazard with most of the circumstance it was due to a tie up of applied N by the previous crops residue. The length at which the winter stretched into spring residue break down was also delayed.
Here it is folks APPLY NITROGEN RICH STRIPS. Just do it, 18 years of research preformed in Oklahoma on winter wheat says it works. Hold off on heavy pre-plant N even if anhydrous is cheap. It does matter how cheap it is if it doesn’t make it to the crop. Will we see another year like 2015-16, do not know and not willing to place money on either side. What we do know is in Oklahoma split applying nitrogen allows you to take weather into account and the N-Rich strip pays dividends.
There are several fact sheets available on top-dressing N and the application of N-Rich strips. Contact your local Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service county educator to get a copy and see if they have a GreenSeeker sensor on hand.
Spring is the time that many wheat producers apply herbicide and nitrogen (N) fertilizer. For many this can be accomplished in a single pass by tank mixing the herbicide and UAN. In most cases this is an effective practice which eliminates one pass over the field. There are some scenarios in which this practice is ill advised. One such scenario is high temperatures which would lead to excessive leaf burn and crop damage. The other scenario is no-till and that will be the focus of this article. Ruling out warm temperature tank mixing herbicides and nitrogen, assuming the herbicide can be tank mixed, is a good practice. No-till on the other hand can be a different issue.
The problem in no-till comes from the liquid application method needed to apply herbicides, flat flan. To get a good kill with the herbicide the spray pattern needs to have good coverage, i.e a lot of small droplets to ensure maximum surface area impacted. Unfortunately there are four primary fates of UAN when applied via flat fan nozzles. The UAN could be taken directly up into the wheat plant via absorption through the leaves, the UAN could reach the soil and go into the soil solution or absorbed onto the soil itself, the UAN can be taken up by weeds, or the UAN droplet may hit dead plant tissue and be adsorbed into the residue.
The fourth fate of UAN presented is what can make the tank mix less efficient than a two pass system. In a no-till system any UAN that hits residue should be counted as lost, for the short term. The decision to go with a one pass or two pass system can be aided by evaluating the amount of canopy coverage. For example if the no-till field has 50% canopy coverage then one could estimate 50% of the UAN applied via a one pass system would be tied up in the residue. The cost of a second application could then be compared to the lost N. If 15 gallon of 28-0-0 was being applied then approximately 22.5 lbs of N would be tied up by the straw. At a price of $0.40 per lb on N, that is $9.00 worth of N. Conversely if the canopy coverage was 80% only 20% or 9 lbs of N would be tied up in the residue. Saving the $3.60 in nitrogen would not justify a second trip over the field. Luckily OSU recently released the Canopeo app which uses a cell phones camera to take pictures and quickly and accurately determine % canopy coverage. Canopeo is available for iOS and android http://canopeoapp.com/.
In fields with a high amount of residue or limited canopy coverage UAN should be applied with streamer nozzles. This will concentration the fertilizer into streams which will allow the UAN to have enough volume to move off the residue and into the soil.
So as the decision is being made to tank mix herbicide and UAN or make two passes take into consideration: % canopy coverage, rate of UAN (how much could be lost), cost of UAN per pound, and cost of a second trip over the field.
Below is an excerpt from the publication Best Management Practices for Nitrogen Fertilizer in Missouri; Peter C. Scharf and John A. Lory. http://plantsci.missouri.edu/nutrientmanagement/nitrogen/practices.htm
Broadcasting UAN solution (28 percent to 32 percent N) is not recommended when residue levels are high because of the potential for the N in the droplets to become tied up on the residue. Dribbling the solution in a surface band will reduce tie-up on residue, and knife or coulter injection will eliminate it. Limited research suggests that the same conclusions probably apply for grass hay or pasture. Broadcast UAN solution is also susceptible to volatile loss of N to the air in the same way as urea, but only half as much will be lost (half of the N in UAN solution is in the urea form).
It is that time of year, every Co-op I drove by the other day had a line of trucks pulling anhydrous tanks and the spinner spreaders were being loaded. For those of you who haven’t applied your nitrogen yet lets discuss the options traditional and nontraditional.
Anhydrous Ammonia, 82-0-0: by far the most widely used N source is the southern Great Plains. While it is not the most enjoyable to work with it is the cheapest per pound of N and that leads to its wide spread use without Oklahoma wheat production. Just a few simple rules with NH3, get it in the ground and close the row behind you. In conventional till this is usually easier unless the ground is too wet or too dry. In no-till this may be a little more challenging but usually easily accomplished. With the rise in low disturbance applicators I am seeing more and more acres of no-till receiving NH3. Last year I was in a field of stripper stubble and I had a hard time finding where the rig had run, minus wheel tracks.
Urea, 46-0-0: is second on the hit list in nitrogen sales in our state. It is a safe source that is easily handled and applied. In a conventional till system where the urea can be worked in shortly after application it is a very efficient and effective source. Unfortunately when it is applied to the soil surface and rain is the method of incorporation we can experience between 5-60% N losses. The losses come from how urea is converted to plant available ammonium (NH4). For urea (NH2)2CO2, to be converted to plant available NH4 it needs the enzyme urease. Urease is present everywhere but in the highest concentrations on plant residue. The figure below shows the reaction, urease converts urea into NH3 as soon as the prill dissolves. In the presence of moisture the NH3 (gas) is turned immediately to NH4 (solid) and is absorbed onto the soil particle.
The problems come when there is no soil particle for the NH4 to bind with. It usually takes 0.50 inches of rain or irrigation to fully dissolve and incorporate urea into the soil. So if we only get a few tenths or hundredths, even heavy dews, some of the urea will dissolve, be converted to NH3 then NH4 and be left on the plant/residue. When the moisture dries, some or all of the NH4 goes back to NH3 and will gas off into the atmosphere. I have even seen this happen when urea is applied on a wet/damp soil, not incorporated and it doesn’t rain for significant period of time. If the temps are cooler the urease is slower so less of the urea is converted to NH4, but if the temps are warm 60+ degrees these little enzymes can act very quickly.
Below is a short video on using urea fertilizer.
While the recent rains are a blessing and will surely help germination, it is not aiding our N use efficiency especially in no-till. That is why in some parts of the state you may see some grain drills running right now. Some of those producers are not planting wheat they are actually applying there pre-plant urea. I have even been told in the SW part of the start some producers are using air-seeders to apply their urea. While this seems like a costly venture I have worked with the Ag Economist to create a calculator to figure up the break even for when it would pay to use an air-seeder over the traditional spinner spreader in no-till. We hope to put the finishing touches on it in the next few days. When it is completed it will be shared on this blog.
Liquid Urea Ammonium Nitrate, 32-0-0 or 28-0-0: while this is one of the more expensive forms of N many producers are utilizing this source because the can pre buy and store on site and as sprayer get larger they can cover a significant amount of ground quickly. For the most part UAN is used in no-till and is a great source. I always recommend that applicators use streamer nozzle or streamer bars to apply UAN. When UAN is applied via a flat fan nozzle it spreads the fertilizer across the residue allowing a significant portion to be tied up. The streamers concentrate the fertilizer into streams/bands reducing contact with residue and increasing the amount of UAN that reaches the soil surface.
Timing and Rates
The cost of anhydrous, about $0.1 to 0.12 less per pound N less than urea is driving its use this year. The lower price is also driving a significant about of producers to go with 100% of their N pre-plant. While this makes for sound economics now having all of your N upfront is like putting all of your eggs in one basket. If we do get that cold and wet winter as some are calling for this presents a great chance for the N to move down the soil profile and down the slope. I have always recommended split application. This allows a producer to judge the crop throughout fall, winter and even yearly spring and adjust his or her N plan accordingly. For those who plan to graze there is still a need to get enough N down to produce fall forage, this may be 50 to 80 lbs of N, but for grain only production planted later in the fall a typical crop may only need 20-30 lbs of N before going into winter. The old rules of thumb, 2 lbs N per bushel and 30 lbs N per 100 lbs of gain still work and are better than a guestimate but we have better ways. Right now is the time to plan to apply N-rich strip, a strip in the field with 40 to 50 lbs more than the rest of the field. These strips can be applied with a variety of applicators, but as long as the N goes down in at least an area 10 ft wide by 300 ft long it is good to go.
Below is a N-Rich Strip 101 video.
If you have got the N-Rich strips out you can set back and watch to see when and if they develop. If you can see the strip you know you need too fertilize.
While many are not ready to think about top-dressing yet, it is never too early. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box. Oklahoma’s springs tend to present the perfect conditions for N loss when urea is the primary N source. This year in a 4R Top-dress Nitrogen Application Demo, at Lahoma and Chickasha, we are going to apply just about every available commercial source in about every possible manor. Urea will be broadcast, coated with inhibitors, applied with a grain drill, NH3 will be knifed in, and UAN will be applied with flat fan nozzles, streamer nozzles and knifed in. As technologies improve and the cost of N remains relatively high the options for top-dress N application will continue to improve. The economics of wheat production don’t look great right now so don’t be afraid to think outside the box, even if it does raise the eyebrows of your neighbors. Fill free to contact myself or your local extension educator if you have any questions about N application.
In the spring of 2014 we initiated what was to be the first year of a three year project evaluating starter fertilizers for soybean production in the southern Great Plains. The first and second year was and is being funded by the Oklahoma Soybean Board.
Year one was a bit experimental in that with so many products on the market we needed some initial work to help focus the direction for years two and three. I also added a treatment which I knew would have significant negative impact, for extension reasons. Keep in mind two locations in a single year does not make an experiment nor provide enough information to draw a definite conclusion. It is however enough to learn some lessons from and for us to plan for our 2015 trials.
The 2014 trial consisted of 12 treatments, Figure 1 and Figure 2. In these treatments I wanted to see the impact of a standard practice, see if a specific nutrient may be more so beneficial, and evaluate a few popular products. The spring of 2014 started out dry so at one of our two locations we pre-watered. This was done by hauling water to the Lake Carl Blackwell (LCB) 1000 gallons at a time and pumping through sprinklers. The other site, Perkins, we delayed planting until we had moisture.
The two locations were also selected due to differences in soil fertility. The LCB site is has good soil fertility, with exception of phosphorus (P), and the Perkins site pH was an issue. I would have expected a benefit from adding P at both of these locations. Figure 4 shows the soil test results.
At LCB as expected some of the treatments (Thio-Sul) reduced stand, some unexpectedly reduced stand (Fe) and others had less impact on stand (APP 5.0) than expected. The growth at LCB was tremendous, the 30 in rows covered over very quickly and the majority of the treatments hit me waist high by early August (I am 6’0”). Many of the treatments showed greater growth than check. But when it comes down to it, grain pays and green does not. Statistically there were no treatments that out preformed the un-treated check, however the K-Leaf and 9-18-9 did make 3 and 2 bpa more than the check respectively. What I am hypothesizing at this site is that the added nutrients, especially those with high P levels, significantly increased vegetative grown and these big plants were delayed into going reproductive and they started setting pods later in much hotter weather. While riding in the combine I could see that the plots with compact plants with clearly defined rows out yielded those were the vines had crossed over and we harvested through more of a solid mat of mature plants. A hot August is not uncommon and I am curious on whether this trend repeats itself. If it does this may direct us into research evaluating ways to force/promote the reproductive stage to start in these big plants. Even if we can force flowering to start earlier, it’s unknown whether yields will increase or not.
The same trends in treatments reducing stand can be seen at Perkins, however the impact was less extreme. Perkins being planted later due to waiting on moisture forced a later flowering date and I believe reduced overall yields. But the addition of P at this low pH site definitely made a difference. While again no treatments were statistically greater than the un-treated check the 2.5 gpa APP, DAP broadcast, APP/H2O, and Pro-Germ/H20 treatments increased yield by 5.6, 4.2, 3.8 and 1.7 bpa respectively.
Take home from year one was that at LCB the addition of a starter fertilizer had little benefit and if done wrong could cost you yield while at the low pH site of Perkins an addition 2.5 gallons of APP did get a 5 bpa bump, but do to variability in the trial the increase was not statistically significant. This year we will drop some of the treatments and incorporate a few new treatments. Based on the current weather we look to potentially being able to start with better soil moisture at planting. Again do not take this work and significantly adjust any plans you have for your 2015 soybean crop. This is however some interesting findings that I wanted to share and make everyone aware of. Finally thank you to the Oklahoma Soybean Board for providing funding for this work. www.oksoy.org/
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