Nitrogen models can improve nutrient stewardship

Written by Dr. Jason Weirich on .

What a year we’ve had—from nearly perfect planting conditions to a drought that affected most of our trade territory to more rain during harvest season. Is this the new norm? Maybe.

In most cases, we’ve seen higher yields in corn this year than we expected, but we know that yield variability across fields is normal. We’ve also seen the same when we look at nutrient values. Do they always correspond? Do the high-yielding spots always have the higher nutrient values? The short answer to both of these questions is, “No.” Sometimes the areas with lower nutrient levels might be your highest-yielding spots in the field. This may sound confusing, but these areas are removing more nutrients than others. So it only makes sense that we would put back different rates of fertilizer. Right? This is a common issue we discuss when visiting with producers.

This variability in nutrient values can cause headaches when planning how to replace the P and K that your crop removed. While the flat-rate method of replacing what the whole field averaged has worked in the past, I believe that variable-rate application of nutrients is one of the best management practices that we should all consider to help minimize environmental issues and increase yield. This allows your fertilizer dollar to go further. Nutri-Track programs have a strong focus on nutrient stewardship. We want to put your fertilizer where it will get you the biggest return.

As you may have seen, the first week of October we announced that MFA is partnering with Adapt-N to offer Nutri-Track N recommendations with all of our current Nutri-Track acres (see related story on page 5). This program allows our agronomists and precision specialists to work with producers to employ a nitrogen model to determine optimal rates for your fields. This model takes in a number of factors to determine the right N rate. The tool evaluates organic matter, soil type, rainfall and other variables that affect nitrogen. We then use this model-based N recommendation to have a conversation with you to find efficiencies in nutrient stewardship as well as increasing yield.

Over the past couple of years, two of our producers have been named 4R Advocates, a national award for nutrient stewardship. The 4Rs promote general best management practices that are the foundation of our precision programs: the Right Source, Right Rate, Right Time and Right Place. While this may sound simple, it can also be very complex. The 4R program is important, because it demonstrates our commitment to soil stewardship, proper fertilization practices and the economic benefit of these techniques.

I also feel strongly that the average person, not involved in agriculture, misunderstands the concept of fertilization in commercial farming. The 4R program may help dispel some misconceptions by the general public. For more information, visit www.nutrientstewardship.org or stop by your local MFA.

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