Going into the 2021 growing season, producers have a better opportunity for profitability than we’ve experienced in several years. Commodity prices have been on the rise, and the weather outlook points to a great start for spring in MFA’s trade territory.
We’ve also seen fertilizer markets surge over the past several months. Nitrogen, phosphate and potash prices have all been on the upswing, subject to the forces of shorter supplies and larger demand, and that trend is expected to continue throughout the spring and summer.
This is definitely a year when growers need to focus on maximizing yields—taking full advantage of higher grain prices—while protecting their fertilizer investment to make sure the nutrients are used most efficiently for top crop performance.
When it comes to corn, wheat and forages, nitrogen is the nutrient we need to be most concerned about protecting. Nitrogen impacts nearly every major process in the plant and is a large driver of yield. Without nitrogen, nothing happens. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got all the phosphorus and potash in the world. And the greater the yield, the greater the crop’s nitrogen needs.
Unfortunately, the potential for nitrogen loss is huge. As soon as we put a nitrogen product on a field, it’s bombarded by many different environmental factors that are trying to break it down into forms that can be lost either to the air or through the water. Under certain conditions, we can lose 30% to 40% or more of our applied nitrogen to leaching, denitrification and volatilization. Just do that math against the price of your fertilizer, and you can figure out pretty quickly just how important it is to protect that investment.
And you can’t mitigate the problem by simply using more nitrogen. The reality is, if you’ve got conditions causing loss, putting on more nitrogen just means you have that much more to lose. We really have to do something to stop the processes.
That’s where nitrogen stabilizers can help. To explain how stabilizers work, let me first explain how these losses occur. Through a process called nitrification, the ammonium in nitrogen fertilizers is converted to nitrite in the soil and then further oxidized to nitrate. Once in nitrate form, the nitrogen is subject to loss because it moves freely throughout the soil with moisture and can leach below the root zone. Nitrate is also susceptible to denitrification, a biological process that converts nitrate to gas that is lost to the atmosphere. This can often happen in waterlogged soils.
When using dry nitrogen, namely urea, volatilization is the issue we’re usually dealing with. This process has several steps. First, an enzyme called “urease” in the soil and organic residue convert urea to an unstable form, which can quickly change to ammonia and carbon dioxide. If you lay urea on top of the ground and do not incorporate it with tillage or a good rain, the nitrogen can volatilize right into the air. We want to stop the urease and slow that process down as much as possible until the product can be incorporated into the soil.
Depending on the weather, MFA’s own N-Guard stabilizer can protect nitrogen from volatilization for about 10 days to two weeks, which hopefully gives us time to get a good incorporating rain. N-Guard is applied to urea fertilizer when it’s blended at your MFA location.
Many locations also offer SuperU, a urea-based granule with the stabilizer built-in when it’s manufactured. SuperU has additional technology that protects against losses both above and below ground, keeping the nitrogen in its ammonium form as long as possible.
We do a lot of things in agriculture because we can put a bottom line to it, and stabilizing your nitrogen is one of those practices. MFA, our suppliers and universities have all done studies with these products and have shown there is consistently a positive economic return on investing in nitrogen stabilizers. Not only does it protect the farmer’s fertilizer dollar, but it also makes sure the nutrition is there to boost yields.
At the same time, using nitrogen stabilizers is simply good stewardship of the land. Anything we can do to keep these fertilizer products stable until the crops need it is not only a benefit to our grower but also a benefit to the environment.
Learn more about Nitrogen Stabilization: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FATyOpduHJ8
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