Stabilizing nitrogen helps deliver best return on fertilizer investments
Illinois grower and agronomy manager Kyle Meece puts new products to the test, requiring consistent results before recommending them for his agronomy clients.
By Cynthia Clanton
In today’s high-stakes crop production environment, every molecule of nitrogen matters. About the time a corn plant reaches maximum height, its nitrogen needs are soaring — and that may be weeks or months after fertilizer hit the field
“The only way a grower makes money is by growing bushels, and nitrogen is the driving factor in growing those bushels,” says Kyle Meece, a central Illinois grower and agronomy manager at United Prairie, LLC, based in Tolono, Ill. “We can only invest so much in the crop, so what makes the most sense?
One proactive and proven answer, he says, is using a nitrogen stabilizer to help hold nitrogen in place until the developing crop is ready to use it
Risks all around
Nitrogen loss can happen in nearly all environmental conditions, says Alissa Geske, an Illinois CHS crop protection technical specialist. “As soon as you apply fertilizer, losses will start to occur. When granular urea hits the ground, it is immediately exposed to the risk of volatilization. And when liquid fertilizer is applied below ground, it’s susceptible to denitrification and leaching.”
Waterlogged soils speed nitrogen loss, she says, but it doesn’t take much moisture to start the process. “When you put on nitrogen in any form, whether it be ammonia, UAN or urea, the minute you put it out there, you’re susceptible to loss. Considering how variable the environment is, why wouldn’t you want to protect your investment?”
“One of our biggest focuses for the industry is managing nitrogen better,” says Meece. “How do we keep it in a form that is plant-available and not lost in the soil profile? When you look at nitrogen stabilization, the goal is above and below-ground protection. For us, having both those attributes is important. That’s something N-Edge® Pro offers, with both NBPT and DCD compounds for dual protection.”
The ability to apply both NBPT and DCD in one pass is the real game-changer, says Steve Wolfe, crop protection account manager for CHS in northern Illinois. “N-Edge Pro gives you the ability to protect nitrogen both above and below ground, so you’re protected regardless of what the weather does.”
NBPT (N-[n-butyl]-thiophosphoric triamide), a urease inhibitor, and DCD (cicyandiamide), a nitrification inhibitor, are time-tested, effective nitrogen protectors, says Wolfe. He and Geske cite global research with NBPT showing an average reduction in nitrogen loss of 53% when applied to urea. Research in multiple states shows DCD performs as well as another inhibitor, nitrapyrin, but with less corrosive characteristics.
“While some nitrogen stabilizers don’t really tell you what’s in them, we can clearly say N-Edge Pro contains 17% NBPT and 23% DCD,” says Geske. “That should give growers confidence because they know what they are getting and they know it will work.”
“We’re working to better understand nitrogen protection,” says Meece. “I’m always looking at it from the soil aspect, trying to measure nitrogen movement within the soil profile. Is it in the 12-inch range or has it moved to the 12- to 24-inch range? At the end of the day, growers want to see yield performance, and monitoring nitrogen movement helps us manage for that.
“If we have ideal growing conditions, we may not have any nitrogen loss, but a nitrification inhibitor is like an insurance policy,” he adds. “Some years it may not pay for itself, but other years it pays for itself many times over.”
United Prairie research conducted in multiple locations across its trade territory and at the cooperative’s own research farm proves the value of strategies like nitrogen stabilization over time and across different soil types and environmental conditions. “Our goal is to continue to bring new technologies and ideas to our customers and to stay openminded to everything that’s available in this ever-changing industry,” says Meece.
Protection above and below
N-Edge® Pro nitrogen stabilizer combines proven active ingredients NBPT and DCD to prevent nitrogen loss in both above- and below-ground applications. Protecting nitrogen above and below ground helps ensure a better supply of nutrients to fuel early growth, ear fill and overall plant health. N-Edge Pro provides dual protection by including 17% NBPT and 23% DCD, plus a proven solvent for enhanced mixing and handling under a wide range of conditions.
NBPT urease inhibitor prevents ammonia volatilization by blocking enzyme activity that breaks down urea-based nitrogen fertilizers. Breakdown begins as soon as fertilizer touches soil, even with relatively dry conditions and moderate temperatures.
DCD nitrification inhibitor blocks the activity of bacteria that turn ammonium into nitrate, which is susceptible to leaching and denitrification. Leaching moves nitrogen out of the root zone and denitrification changes the form of nitrogen, making it less available for crop uptake.
The United Prairie agronomy team is also using other strategies to ensure nitrogen is available when the crop needs it most.
“We’re splitting nitrogen applications to spread them out through the whole growing season,” says Meece. “A corn plant has the greatest nitrogen uptake from V8 to VT (tassel), so it doesn’t make sense to think we’d put all the fertilizer on in the fall, six months before the plant needs it, or in the spring, a month and a half before it really needs most of the nitrogen. We’ve seen multiple applications throughout the growing season provide some very nice returns.
“When the corn crop is doing its hardest work — filling the ear — if it’s lacking any critical input, including nitrogen, it’s not going to perform at its optimal level and that equates to lower yield.”
Prepared for uncertainty
Flexibility in application rate is another advantage with N-Edge Pro, says Meece. “The rate N-Edge Pro is applied is based on the rate of nitrogen being applied. We’re putting out the amount of active ingredient that will help protect the actual nitrogen we’re applying. That’s another way we help manage the economic side of fertilizer application.”
Being prepared for whatever the season brings is the best strategy, Meece says. “When it comes to nitrogen loss, nobody can tell whether it’s going to be from loss to the air or from nitrification or leaching. When you lay 32% fertilizer on the ground, how soon before we get it incorporated or we get rainfall? “Mother Nature holds the trump card, and whether we get enough rain or an excessive amount of rain, we need to keep nitrogen in the zone where roots can access it.”
Check out the full C magazine with this article and more.