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Vaughn Reed, PhD. Student Precision Nutrient Management
Brain Arnall Precision Nutrient Management Extension Specialist.
Data presented below are the results of Mr. Reeds Masters research project.
On farm research trials are important, because they give us the ability to see responses over a larger geographic area, and even more importantly, evaluate our recommendations on fields that are managed by producers, not researchers. They also allow us to look at current production practices and see if there are any missed opportunities. Several years ago, we looked at whether producers were leaving yield on the table by not applying enough nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), potassium(K), and sulfur (S) to winter wheat. We did this by applying strips of N, P, K, and S fertilizer on farmers’ fields with the instructions to not change their fertilizer management strategies. If one or more of the strips resulted in higher yields then it could be assumed that either the nutrient was under-applied by the producer, or in the case of N, lost. That study concluded that at 75% of the locations, yield was maximized by the producer with [their respective] NPKS management system, however the greatest responses came from the addition of P and that Oklahoma State University’s soil testing and analysis was adequate for nutrient recommendations. That studies results were published in 2017 and is open access, so available for anyone to read. https://dl.sciencesocieties.org/publications/cftm/abstracts/3/1/cftm2017.02.0014
There are many producers around the state that follow winter wheat with double crops (DC). Often, this practice is done with limited inputs to reduce economic risk. Oklahoma State does not make different recommendations for DC or full season crops, with the exception that yield potentials can differ. In 2016 and 2017 we duplicated the Wheat NPKS study across 3 double crops (soybean, grain sorghum, sunflower) following winter wheat and canola. With a recent climb in DC yields we wanted to investigate if producers were applying enough nutrients to maximize grain yield. Additionally it would allow us evaluate the accuracy of OSU’s soil test based fertilizer recommendations in a double crop. Over the two years, 61 on-farm sites ranging from central to NE Oklahoma had 200 lb/ac of product per nutrient applied in strips 6ft wide by 150 ft long. Urea (46-0-0), triple super phosphate (0-46-0), muriate of potash (0-0-60), and gypsum (0-0-0-19) were used for sources N, P, K, and S, respectively (92 lbs N, 92 lbs P, 120 lbs K, 38 lbs S). In most cases the fertilizer was applied post planting and post-emergence to ensure strips were applied an areas with good stand.
Much like with the wheat-NPKS study 75% of the locations did not respond to additional fertilizer. Twenty treatment comparisons of the 244 made across all 61 locations (50 soybean, 7 grain sorghum, 4 sunflower) yielded a statistically significant change in yield due to the addition of N-P-K-or S. For this report, a comparison was the yield of each nutrient versus the non-treated check, therefore there were four comparisons made per location. Seventeen of the twenty positive responses were found in soybean, three with grain sorghum, and no responses were found in sunflower plots. Lack of response from grain sorghum and sunflower locations is contributed to small amount of grain sorghum and sunflower fields in the study.
Nitrogen rates, for non-legumous crops, are yield driven, meaning the higher yielding a crop, the higher amount of N required. Both grain sorghum and sunflower crops, due to neither being legumes, were expected to see N response, especially to those locations that applied little to no N to begin with. A yield response from the addition of N was found in one grain sorghum location, where the producer application was not enough to maximize yield, and the additional N pushed the yields. As expected, there were no soybean locations that responded to the addition of N.
Phosphorus and potassium are both sufficiency based, not yield driven. This means that if the soil is at 100% sufficiency, the crop will produce at its highest rate achievable, based on that nutrient. 100% sufficiency for P and K are approximately 65 STP and 250 STK, respectively. Phosphorus and potassium strips yielded the most results, especially in soybean locations. Of 20 responses, five responses were due to P, ten due to K, and four due to S. Locations that responded to the addition to P were locations that either had low levels of STP (approx. 80% sufficiency or less), or had low pH, which leads to less availability of P (pH>5.0).
Potassium yielded the most positive results, with ten responsive locations, as well as the most interesting results, with only three sites falling below 100% sufficiency. The other responses were attributed to having low Cl levels (Cl, as in Chloride, which while responses are rare, is a necessary nutrient, and sometimes can lead to losses in yield, especially in sandy environments), as well as drought stress conditions. Potassium has been shown to have a vital role in nutrient uptake and water retention, as it is found to be critical for root growth, and these are displayed highest in crops found in drought like conditions. One hypothesis for the K response is related to root growth. The later planted DC will spend less resources in root development before going reproductive. Soybean is a heavy user of K, combine smaller roots, typically hot drier soils, and high K demand it is not surprising to find this occurrence.
Sulfur, while not wide-spread reported in Oklahoma, has recommendations by OSU built on a yield driven scale. There were four responsive locations found in this project. While one location had low soil test S values there were located areas that received high rainfall events during the growing season, and therefore the response was attributed to leaching of S.
So, after all that, what is the bottom line? Here is our observations:
- Producers maximized yield 75% of the time, with 25% of locations responding to any additional nutrient.
- The 20 responses to additional nutrients occurred across 15 locations, four locations had responses to more than one nutrient
- By nutrient: Note for P and K, due to site variability it was not expected to observe statistic yield increase due to P or K unless soil test was below 70% sufficiency, of which no location had soil test P or K below 70%.
- 38 locations were below 100% sufficiency of phosphorus, with five observed responses
- Seven locations were below 100% sufficiency of potassium, two observed responses. An additional eight locations responded that were not predicted by soil test
- Based on pre-plant soil test there were no sites expected to respond to the addition of Sulfur, 4 locations did respond.
- Soil test results were adequate in correctly identifying locations that would not respond to the addition of nutrients (93.5% accurate), while not as accurate at predicting sites that would respond.
- For K, soil testing was less accurate, as eight of the ten responsive locations had soil test values above 250 soil test K (125 ppm or 100% sufficiency). For this reason, we are currently doing work evaluating K recommendations for soybeans.
This work confirms that of the fields we evaluated, the majority was not yield limited by N, P, K or S. However, as with anything, we have more work to do in order to further refine our recommendations, and always looking to learn more about how to aid producers.
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.
When I started writing this blog (3.13.2105) Ok grain elevator cash bids for grain sorghum aka milo was 6.61-7.70 cwt (3.7-4.31 per bushel) and corn was at 3.64-4.06 per bushel. Meaning there is currently a premium on sorghum grain. This difference among other things has increased the interest in planting sorghum. Of late I have been quite successful, at least on a small-scale, at producing sorghum yield in the 120-150 bpa range, thanks to the advice of Rick Kochenower former OSU sorghum specialist. Both of us believe that every year many producers are leaving significant bushels on the table due to one or two miss steps. I wanted to take this opportunity to share what is in my opinion the keys in producing a bumper sorghum crop. I should note that the primary key is out of our control, rain.
Key 1. Planting date, the optimum planting date for grain sorghum is generally when soil temperatures reach 60° F and increase after planting. For much of the region that I believe is best suited for sorghum this falls between April 1 and April 15 for south of I40 and April 15 and May 1 north of I40. graph below shows the long-term average daily 4″ soil temp (bare soil) for Apache, Blackwell, Cherokee, and Vinita. It is easy to see how your location within the state can impact soil temps.
You should not forget however that tillage practices will also impact soil temps. The two graphs below show the long-term average daily 4″ soil temp for Cherokee and Blackwell for both bare soil and under sod. Note that when the soil is covered by residue it warms slower. The two figures also show that residue will have more impact in some areas more so than others.
My best word of advise is to keep a watchful eye on the Mesonet. While the long-term average is nice to know here in Oklahoma the difference in weather from one year to the next can be huge. The figure below shows the average daily 4″ soil temp (below sod) from Blackwell for the past five years. Link to Mesonet Soil Temp page Click here.
Another great resource is a report on planting date written by Rick Kochenower presented to RMA. Link to report.
Key 2. Hybrid selection, primarily maturity group selection. Rick has created a great graphic that helps put a planting date window with maturity group. It is always important to visit with your local seed dealer to find out what has been performing best in your region and consider the importance of stay-green, standablilty and disease packages. But for me the number one key is the selection of maturity group. This should be based upon planting date and harvest strategies. Below is a great graphic created by Rick, while this may not be scientific it is a great guide created via years of experience. I also recommend that if you are planting a significant amount of acres you should diversify your maturity groups. Not only does this spread out he harvest window but it also you to spread the risk of high temps coming early or late. An additional resource is the Sorghum Performance trial summary located on the Ok Panhandle Research and Extension Center website. Click here.
Key 3. Soil Fertility, while soil pH plays a big role on sorghum productivity but it is too late in the game to do much about it this year. So the most important things to keep in mind on fertilizing sorghum are your macro-nutrients nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P) and potassium (K). It is my opinion that historically producers have underestimated the yield potential of sorghum and therefore lost yield due to under application on N. You should expect more than 60 to 80 bushel out of your crop if you put the right seed in the ground, at the right time and in the right way.
Ask around look at Rick’s yield data, producers in N. Central Ok on a good soil should be going for 125+ bpa easy. Unfortunately you are unlikely to hit these yield levels if you fertilize for a 75 bpa crop. An easy rule of thumb on N fertilization is 1.2 lbs of N per bushel, for a more exact number take a look at the image below. This comes from the corn and sorghum PeteSheet and is the same table that comes from the Soil Fertility Handbook. (If you would like some Pete Sheets just send me an email requesting them at email@example.com, Link to PeteSheets page).
Key 4. Weed Control With sorghum utilizing a pre-plant herbicide with residual is extremely important due to the lack of over the top options. Most times proper weed control will be accomplished by utilizing concept treated seed and use of labeled rates of a pre-emergent grass control herbicide combined with atrazine.
While I primarily focus of the four keys above there are a few other important items to consider.
Population: Prefer to think in terms of seeds per acre instead of lbs per acre. This comes into to play with the use of a planter. Rick Kochenower says “for seeding rate(on 30 inch rows), it isn’t as critical as most people think it is. Because most guys in Oklahoma tend to under plant not over plant. I always suggested 45,000 but as you look at the last slide it really don’t matter much. The way I always liked putting it is to make you sure have enough out there to not have to replant, because being late hurts more than having to few too many or too few plants.”
Row spacing: I like 30, but many may not have a planter so I suggest at least plugging every other hole in the drill to be at a 12″-20″ spacing. Make sure your population is correct for your row spacing. For this consult with your local seed dealer to match cultivar with row spacing and proper population.
Insects: Scouting for aphids and head midge is very important, these little critters are yield robbers and can gum up the works at harvest.
Harvest prep: I almost put this as the fifth key. By chemically maturing/terminating your crop you are both able to increase harvest efficiency and preserve moisture for a following winter crop of wheat or canola.
While this is a good start I suggest a visit with your local OSU Extension educator, consultant or seed dealer for information about your specific situation. Just know the crop has great potential to yield big if treated right. I like to say don’t treat your sorghum crop like the stray you adopted, treat it like your hunting dog that you traveled halfway across the country to pick up. Good luck in 2015 and I hope the rains fall when and were needed.
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