Written by Jonathan Eisenthal
Farmers across Minnesota have been delving into a series of seminars called ‘Nitrogen Smart’, supported by Minnesota Corn Growers Association. The seminars, hosted by Minnesota Agriculture Water Resource Center (MAWRC), are presented by experts from University of Minnesota Extension.
Eight ‘Nitrogen Smart’ workshops took place across the state in December, from Slayton to Faribault. Each meeting was geared to the particular region where it was set, to offer insights and practices that can make that region’s farmers most effective with their use of nitrogen.
“The goal of these sessions is to help farmers gain a better understanding of how to manage nitrogen more effectively,” says Brad Carlson, University of Minnesota Extension educator and workshop presenter. “It’s an opportunity to talk through the data and research, and use that information to help reduce environmental impacts and reduce costs for the farmer.”
This year’s buzz is all about variable rate application of fertilizer. A growing number of farmers are using commercial modeling services that predict the most effective amount of and timing for fertilizer based on soil texture, organic matter and weather forecasts.
UMN Associate Professor Dan Kaiser feels these modeling services hold promise for the future, but still have a ways to go. In the meantime, a rate calculator supported by an association of seven upper Midwest universities called the ‘Maximum Return To Nitrogen’ offers the best estimates about the appropriate rate to use, under average conditions. This information is based on 60 sites where researchers are tracking performance in corn following corn crop rotations, and another 90 sites where corn and soybean rotations are being researched.
Kaiser also outlined what are known as ‘the 4Rs’ at a recent Nitrogen Smart workshop: specifically, the importance of using nitrogen in the Right place, at the Right time, in the Right amount and in the Right form.
Two dozen farmers and ag professionals attended the Nitrogen Smart workshop in Faribault in late December. Larry Stebbins, who raises corn and soybeans in Steele County, found the information helpful.
“I have been working with some people, doing some (in-season) nitrogen testing and side dressing according to what that shows,” says Stebbins “I have a side dress unit set up for variable rate application of nitrogen and for the past two years, my practice has been to place part of my fertilizer right ahead of the planter…I have a sprayer boom set up to stream 15-inch bands of nitrogen, so it’s concentrated and then right behind that I work it in with a vertical tillage knife. I put on enough nitrogen at that point to carry me to V8 (when the corn plant is about two feet tall), so I hope I have myself covered until then, and then I come back and side dress according to what we see in the testing.”
This practice is one way to assure that crops get the right amount of nitrogen, right when they need it, to assure the highest yield. This lessens the risk of losing nitrogen due to bad weather or applying more nitrogen than the crops can use, both goals Minnesota farmers strive for.
For more information on Nitrogen Smart visit z.umn.edu/nitrogensmart.
For additional information on nutrient management from University of Minnesota Extension click here.
To view nitrogen-related research funded by Minnesota’s corn farmers click here.