AMES, Iowa – New data from Farmers Edge suggests in-season nitrogen management will be even more critical this year on corn acres. With widespread rainfall and field flooding, remaining soil nitrogen can vary greatly within a field.
“We’re seeing very large discrepancies, depending on how much variability you have in your field. I have seen losses as high as 80 pounds and I've seen losses as low as something around 10-15 pounds,” said Jamie Denbow, global digital ag lead with Farmers Edge, during a recent phone interview.
Farmers Edge is focused on field-specific data collection. Using localized weather stations, field and soil data, and farmers’ inputs, they offer programs that not only track field history, but also predict how the field will change.
The N-Manager program keeps track of where actual soil nitrate levels are based on what has been happening in a specific field.
“The only thing we sell to a grower is data collection and representation, and agronomic support tools. We don't sell nitrogen. We don't sell any nutrient, machinery or other crop input” Denbow said. “When our model says you need 60 pounds of N in a management zone, it's because that is what the model is deeming necessary. We don't have a vested interest in making that recommendation.”
The field data collected this spring by Farmers Edge was part of a test of their N-Manager program. The goal was to see if actual soil tests and nitrate levels were comparable to what the program was saying was in the field.
Several fields were tested across all the states in the Midwest, as well as a few provinces in Canada. These were fields that received fall applied Nitrogen.
While the results did line up with the N-Manager program, they have greater implications for growers across the area as they struggle with late planting.
“We're seeing some fields with management zone nitrogen recommendations spread over 50 pounds within the same field,” he said. “Just spreading, throwing a dart at the dartboard, picking a standard N-rate and throwing that on every zone across the field. You could be throwing 30 pounds out the window on some zones because you're just over applying and starving other zones by 30 pounds.”
Denbow recommends dividing a field up into zones of production and soil testing each zone individually.
“On an average, you’ve probably got four zones of production in the field, versus 30 grid locations,” he said.
Farmers tend to know their fields and know where their production zones are, even if they haven’t sat down to mark them on a map.
Nitrate retention in the soil is going to be impacted by a number of different things. The soil type, heavier clay vs. sandier soils, will impact how it holds nutrients. Water infiltration, whether water flow into the soil easily or moves across the surface, will influence if those nutrients that stay in the soil are pushed deeper or carried off. The different elevations in the field will be impacted differently, whether or not ponding occurred this spring.
It is important to note that in all the tested fields, the fall applied nitrogen was treated with a nitrogen stabilizer. The heavy rains this spring and flooding were still able to create losses.
“Yes, Mother Nature has given us a couple of blows, but we still have the opportunity to produce something,” he said. “We’ve still got the capability to produce a high-yielding corn crop.”
The late plant has likely taken a few points off of final yields for some acres, but it is still early in the season and the crop can recover. The concern is mismanagement of in-season nitrogen might only add to growers’ problems.
“It’s the second straw on the camel's back,” said Denbow. “You could be compounding a negative by not managing your in-season nitrogen applications accordingly.”